December 20, 2011

Fossils and... LEGOS?

If you’re like me, you have fond memories of playing with LEGOs as a kid. Hours upon hours spent creating fortresses to keep out monsters or making search and rescue helicopters to help save your city from the latest natural disaster.

These stackable toys are fun, but did you know they also serve an important role at the Burke Museum? Our paleontology fossil preparators use LEGOs to help make casts of real fossils in the Burke's collections.

Fossil casts allow for 3-dimensional lightweight copies of a fossil to be made for educators to use in their classrooms and for researchers wanting to study a particular specimen from the Burke's paleontology collections.

Why we use LEGOs
The tight fit of the LEGOs doesn't leak the silicone we pour around the fossil to make a mold.

An Ammonite fossil covered in silicone. The silicone
is the “mold” the plaster is poured into to make the cast.

Another benefit of using LEGOs is that we can build a close perimeter around oddly-shaped fossils like this Gorgonopsian’s canine and partial lower jaw:
Even though it’s only a part of one section of its jaw,
this fossil is pretty big and oddly shaped – a great
example of why we use LEGOS.

After creating the silicone mold of the fossil, we pour plaster into the mold to finish the process of creating a 3-dimensional cast. Here's what the end result looks like:

The real fossil will stay at the Burke but thanks to LEGOs and the rest of the casting process, the silicone mold can be used several times to create additional casts.

Do you have LEGOs to donate?
“LEGO DUPLO” (like the ones in the photos) are the most useful for making fossil casts, but we will happily accept donations of LEGOs of any type.

If you have any unwanted LEGOs at your house that you'd like to give a new career in our fossil prep lab, please drop them off at the Burke Museum admission desk during the month of September 2013. Thanks!