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USD Student Seeks to Enhance Learning with Chameleon 3D Models

Alexis Slack holding her chameleon 3D model, sitting in front of her computer with the model on the computer screen. USD student Alexis Slack has created 3D printed models of chameleon sculls to enhance anatomy classroom instruction.

VERMILLION, S.D. – University of South Dakota student Alexis Slack has created 3D printed models of vertebrate skulls, isolating and printing individual bones to use as puzzles for educational purposes.

Slack, a rising junior majoring in biology of human dynamics and neuroscience, used an existing micro-Computed Tomography (µCT) scan dataset to isolate each bone in the skull of a chameleon using Amira software. She tracked where each bone connects and learned how they come together to create the composite skull. For an easier assembly and enhanced teaching, Slack drilled magnets into the printed structures and dyed each bone. Slack’s models are ideal for classroom instruction as they are inexpensive and can be printed on demand.

“It is my hope that my research will advance a variety of scientific fields, leading to a progression in the biological, medical and medical education fields, and enhance the student experience across the world,” Slack said. “My research stands to advance pre-medical education through the creation of physical learning tools for anatomy classes, while also informing our understanding of the comparative skeletal anatomy of chameleons.”

Slack’s interest in 3D printing began in high school when she made 3D prints for friends and family. “I knew at the time I wanted to pursue something in the sciences, so I began brainstorming ways I could use 3D printing to help people in a medical technology field,” Slack said. “When I came to USD, I connected with Dr. Chris Anderson. After meeting with him, I started in his lab the following week.”

“Alexis is an extremely dedicated and hardworking student with incredible drive,” said Anderson, an assistant professor in the Department of Biology. “Since contacting me about research during the first week of her freshman year, Alexis has regularly pushed to learn new techniques, expand her project, take on leadership roles working with other students in the lab and enthusiastically asked if it was all right for her to work in the lab in the evenings or weekends."

Slack has received a Nolop Summer Research Scholarship, a UDiscover Summer Scholarship and a Dean’s Opportunity Fund award from the College of Arts & Sciences.


USD's College of Arts & Sciences offers students a top-notch undergraduate liberal arts education in the humanities, social sciences and sciences as well as graduate programs that have earned USD distinction as a research university by the Carnegie Foundation. The college's more than 22,000 alumni include famous journalists, Hollywood screenwriters, novelists, a Nobel Prize winner, South Dakota governors, attorneys, physicians, justices of the state Supreme Court, distinguished university faculty and international humanitarians.


Founded in 1862 and the first university in the Dakotas, the University of South Dakota is the only public liberal arts university in the state, with 202 undergraduate and 84 graduate programs in the College of Arts & Sciences, School of Education, Knudson School of Law, Sanford School of Medicine, School of Health Sciences, Beacom School of Business and College of Fine Arts. With an enrollment of nearly 10,000 students and more than 400 faculty, USD has a 16:1 student/faculty ratio, and it ranks among the best in academics and affordability. USD’s 18 athletic programs compete at the NCAA Division I level.


Hanna DeLange
USD News