Spotted: In 1989, an international ban was placed on the global ivory trade to protect the threat to elephants and since then, technicians restoring ivory artefacts have had to get creative in finding alternative materials. Recently, a team of scientists at the Vienna University of Technology teamed up with Cubicure and developed a new 3D-printable substance that can act as a cruelty-free substitute to ivory. Named Diggory, the material initially takes the form of a liquid synthetic resin containing calcium phosphate particles and silicon oxide powder.
Using a variation of the stereolithography 3D-printing process, the initial resin is poured into a transparent vat, where an ultraviolet laser beam is shone through the bottom, moving back and forth through it. This causes the resin to gradually solidify onto the underside of a print bed located above it. Once the item has been printed, it is polished and dyed to match the colour of the artefact being restored. Colourants such as black tea have been used as a dye. The finished product mimics the translucent quality of ivory and replicates its strength and stiffness.
Diggory has already been used to replace lost ivory ornamentation on a 17th-century state casket in a parish church in Mauerbach, Austria. The team hopes that once the technology is developed further, it will not only be used as a restoration material, but also as a means of displacing and outcompeting elephant ivory that is still circulating illegally by poachers.
Despite the global ivory trade being internationally banned for over 30 years, poachers have continued to illegally sell the material. A substitute like Diggory has the potential to displace this illegal trade and its danger to elephants. Furthermore, as it perfectly mimics the properties of ivory, it will also be able to help in the restoration of historical artefacts that have been made with the material.
Written By: Serafina Basciano