The Foetus Project by Jorge Lopes Dos Santos



Brazilian design graduate Jorge Lopes Dos Santos has developed a way of making physical models of foetuses using data from ultrasound, CT and MRI scans.


He developed the project in collaboration with a paediatric cardiologist at Imperial College while studying on the Design Products MA course at London's Royal College of Art.


Jorge Lopes Dos Santos hopes the models, which are made using 3D printing techniques, can be used to train doctors and to help with emotional support for parents whose child may be born with deformities.


See all our stories from the RCA show 09 in our special category.

Here's some more information from the RCA, followed by a text from head of Design Products Ron Arad:


Medicine is benefiting from cutting-edge research undertaken in the Design Products department at the Royal College of Art.

Research student Jorge Ribeiro Lopes dos Santos has been working with a paediatric cardiologist at Imperial College because he has found a way of using rapid prototyping technology to scan foetuses and produce models as teaching tools for doctors.


“The technology can be also be used as an emotional tool for parents whose foetus might be deformed or need treatment,” said Hilary French, who heads the School of Architecture and Design Products.


Lopes dos Santos, who is sponsored at the college by the Brazilian government, had begun his research in a relatively pedestrian way, looking at how model-making had been used in practical ways over the centuries, French said.


Lopes dos Santos’s work uses the latest computer techniques first exhibited by Ron Arad at an exhibition at the V&A at the turn of the century entitled Not Made By Hand, Not Made in China.


“Something that staff and students are doing is working with cutting-edge technology, digital technology, 3D printing,” French said.


“In the same way that computers have changed design practice, the three dimensional rapid prototype manufacture means you can infinitely customise something.


Ron Arad:

“I don’t know whether I am looking at science or I am looking at art”, commented M.D Heron Werner (physician specializing in Foetal Medicine), an external examiner in his enthusiastic review at Jorge Lopes Dos Santos’s PhD viva.


He was referring to a display of 3d printouts, physical models of foetuses in various stages of development, twins in a brotherly embrace, perfect embryos, some with slight deformation, some not yet born, like Jorges own the ’sculptures’ were built from all the various scanning techniques (ultrasound 2D/3D, MRI and CT scanners), in a variety of materials through a number of RP technologies.


The other examiner in the room was Dr. Pablo Bartolo, a world expert on RP (though he has a problem with term rapid prototyping). It was fascinating to watch how the two fought (in the most civilised, academic way) to claim the research to their field.


The medical Dr. had an urgent shopping list for immediate application while the other was pushing for the research to dwell longer in the realm of design and engineering.


It is not difficult to imagine many other camps joining the queue, like campaigners from both sides of the abortion debate, commercial exploiters, fine-art curators etc.


We also want to claim J’s research and his 4 year career at Design Products at the RCA as an example of how we wish to see ourselves in the design products department, an example of a student who came to the RCA with a considerable experience in production techniques, a vast knowledge of modern and contemporary design and an impressive collection of images, information on modelling and prototyping from ancient history to cutting edge digital manufacturing and an open minded, open ended theme for his research, physical models and prototypes and their significance in the advancing design culture.


There was no telling where, in this fast developing field, this research was going to lead, no clues that the documenting and methodical archiving of cardboard models, collecting hand carved foam mock-ups from designers studios, visiting labs of digital manufacturing, were going to lead to this groundbreaking new field of world importance, work so new that still enjoys freedom from being filed exclusively in a single category.


I want to believe that the genuinely pluralist non prescriptive environment of the department, the ambitious atmosphere of curiosity of the 2nd floor studio and the platform’s affinity groups have helped and encouraged the individuals to claim the freedom to create work that is new to them and new to us.


I hope that when we look at the work of this year’s graduates, we will also find yourself wondering whether we are looking at science or looking at art, practical solutions or imagined problems, real proposal or virtual suggestions, introvert indulgence or community spirit - all within Design Products.


Posted on Thursday July 16th 2009 at 12:03 am by . Copyright policy | Comments policy

  • damfak

    WOW!!… are we looking a window in the future?…. Is it design? Is it medicine?

  • Dave

    A part of me loves it, and another part of me just thinks it’s wrong. It would be cool to have an installation of your baby every month of the pregnancy. Then you could show it them when they are all grown up :). Still freaky though.

  • charles

    sounds more like a science and engineering project to me, but, its a wonderful project as to provide emotional support to parents with deformative foetus.

    That said,

    the images are very heart breaking and disturbing, and the 3D printed babies with deformed bodies are hard to watch.

    The twin skeletal bodies are beautiful but I feel morally prohibited to mention and acknowledge, as they are a result of grievous misfortune.

    My question is… how is this related to ‘design’?

  • mchoot

    Print ma bebe!

  • Brian




  • tanya telford – T

    this is an amazing project, i found the images a little difficult to look at to start with too, i think because it pushes my pre conceived perceptions, perceptions on subjects which science people are more familiar with. I find myself easily relating to the emotional value of this work as for me even these images have a definite emotional impact on me.


    i think this is more of an art project than a design exercise…
    …and with all the merits given to mister Dos Santos, i think he is just a very good 3d technician with taste, but i would put him on my list of designers.

    between astonishing and macabre….

  • george stumpf

    I think that this is the beginning of a new era in medical technology, being familiar with both MRI imaging techniques and rapid prototyping equipment it has the potential to open up vast fields in learning about us (humans) and our illnesses. Imagine a cardiologist or neurologist being able to print ie make a 3-D version of patients bad heart or nervous system or brain and see where the stroke or clot is? Or your orthopedic surgeon or specialist having a model of your joint to be able to reconstruct it or facial bone reconstruction? The polymers used in rapid prototyping are easy to use and possibly also could be used for temporary replacement?
    Just think of the other possibilities. This project by its very nature will cause one to think and thereby advance medicine, tremenosly.

  • Grande Mestre Jorge,
    Sempre pensando em melhorar o mundo.
    Grande abraço. Baroni

  • rik


    can you show your bone chair? Sounds really nice.

    This project is rather weird. I’m glad they didn’t make earrings out of them or something.

  • Linda Carroll

    I totally agree w/George Stumpf’s insightful comments. This design cross-over has unlimited educational potential.

  • Tolga Yagli

    very interresting idea but are there any design in it?

  • It must be incredible for the parents of the unborn baby to hold a scale model, but then even more heart breaking if the pregnancy doesn’t go full term.

  • Catalina

    Interesting. The machine shop where I work has been making 3D models of human bits and pieces including fetal and infant skeletons. They use data from various medical imaging devices and rapid prototyping equipment to do this and have been doing it for some time. The models are valuable for teaching.

  • super interessante , parabéns
    carlos alcantarino

  • Shireen

    Tolga Yagli, does there have to be design in EVERYthing? Is it not enough that it holds POTENTIAL!

  • LOW

    I’d print one out, and use it as a keychain!

  • to_mr_mr

    Rapid prototyping and 3d scanning has been used by the artist Stelarc for his ‘ear on arm’ project. Refer

    Having undertaken the surgery, the first ear was rejected, leaving a somewhat disturbing image of a ‘dead ear’ on his arm. I believe he is planning to undertake this again at some point…

    Currently, ‘the foetus project’ is really just the application of a technology, however, the ‘project’ (as an ongoing sense of the technology as an opening away from its pure application) inhabits the great fog of potential. Its only when it starts to be used, either through the medical commodification as a tool to ‘design’ new procedures, or as a ‘tool’ to enact a new social awareness of deforities (and the potential ethical paradox that this creates – if you can ‘see’ and ‘touch’ your deformed baby are you less or more likely to want to keep it? If it does become the new obligatory photo – Gran getting a printout of the fetus to coo over – does it open a new visual awareness of culture) As a designer, what ever the medium, this is, I think, what we turn towards to open a dialogue.

    Though, earrings do sound rather neat.

  • Johanna Roberts

    I would like to have all our pro-abortion legislators hold some of these models in their hand and then play through the partial-birth procedure knowing these are live little humans. Could it possibly save a few million babies a horrible death?

  • xtiaan

    oh my goth can someone carve me up a baby on their cnc
    this is lovely

  • cool engineering project
    – can I also use it to model the mice hiding under my kitchen floor?

  • Very interesting project. This might solve some privacy problem related to teaching radiology. A few of my friends studying medicine said professors were often unable to use scans in lectures since the patient information were on the scans themselves. Apparently one image could be spread into dozens of files and each file potentialy contained personal information.

    The scale model would eliminate and become an invaluable teaching tool!

    Of course there are free web-based tools now readily available that allows to remove these information on the images. The one that I use is Trial Wire.

  • george stumpf

    OsiriX is also a free Mac based tool for that. 3D and 4D flythroughs. as well as batch anonominity capabilities I see this opening up discussion over the 3D procedure for many medical fields, if one would think outside the box, which sadly some cannot. Well one can only hope

  • george stumpf,

    Thanks for letting me know about Osirix. It’s compatible with Trial Wire as well, for transferring the images from site to site. Cheers!

  • sceptic

    woooo, spookie. I may like the idea, but 1 picture would be enough is guess

  • chris rutt

    This piece of contemporary example illustrates a minimalist view on every aspect of interior and exterior environments. Zaha has captured the essence of freedom which most designers lack unfortunately. I am an architect and sculpture fortunately I have the same flow of freedom in design, but these froms are fascinating as they capture a variety of moods and feeling under different light aspects