This past weekend, I took the whole family to Antwerp, Belgium for the AEIMS (Association Europeenne des Illustrateurs Medicaux et Scientifiques) meeting. It was nice to see some familiar faces from last year and to meet new people doing interesting and innovative work in the field of medical illustration.
I spent the first day at the beautifully woodsy Wilrijk campus where two rooms were set up for sketching. One was for human anatomy and the other for comparative animal anatomy. I don't consider myself a squeamish person, so I was a little shocked that I found it difficult to stay in the human anatomy room. I had expected dried cadaver specimens, but the university provided us with a dissection of very fresh arms and legs. Medical illustrators often observe surgeries and dissections, so they were very interested and less shocked than I. I spent my day with the animal bones instead.
The second day was full of talks from a wide variety of people from heart surgeons to sculptors to forensic anatomists. One of my favorite talks was by Carlos Van der Perre. The natural history museum in Brussels houses a mammoth skeleton that was discovered in Lier, Belgium. Van der Perre and his collaborators wanted to bring the skeleton back to Lier, but it could not be moved because of its age and fragility. Instead, they decided to 3D print the skeleton for display. They took each bone and did surface scans in order to collect the data necessary to print the skeleton. Then, using a company that usually prints large items for industry, they printed all 320 bones, finished them, painted them, and then put them up on carbon fiber posts for display in Lier. The printing process took two continuous weeks of printing to complete. While this was a mammoth undertaking, it shows how 3D technology could be used for museum displays and replication of fossils or other artifacts.
The AEIMS conference is primarily for medical illustrators, but the process, collaborations, and challenges faced by medical and natural science illustrators are very much the same.