The 3D Pollen Project is based in the UK at the University of Reading and the University of Hull.

Oli Wilson is a PhD student and Graduate Teaching Assistant at the University of Reading, studying the past and future of a threatened forest in southern Brazil. He initiated the 3D Pollen Project in the hope that it would be a useful resource for other scientists who work with pollen - with applications for outreach, teaching and research. Oli's taking the lead on pollen processing and scanning, sorting out the files, and researching the project's educational impact. He also runs this website and the project twitter account, and promises to try and respond to any emails you send us.

Oli Wilson portrait

Prof. Frank Mayle is Professor of Tropical Palaeoecology at the University of Reading. Frank not only runs Reading's tropical palaeoecology research group, whose pollen reference collection is an essential resource for this project, but he's also Oli's main PhD supervisor - in this capacity, he's in charge of ensuring Oli doesn't get too distracted from his other research!

Dr Jane Bunting is a palaeoecologist and Reader in Geography at the University of Hull. Oli is a visiting student in Jane's lab, and is using Hull's pollen reference material to expand the range of pollen types available through the project. 

On the technical side of things, Dr Cordula Kemp (research technician) and Ann Lowry (microscopy suite manager, both at Hull) have played essential roles in helping Oli get the pollen scanning sorted, with Dr Anthony Hayes (Cardiff University), Dr Graham Luke and Viv Rimmer (both at Reading) all providing additional expert advice. Finally, Marie Taylor, Health and Safety Coordinator for Reading's School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Sciences, has been Oli's guide through the world of standard operating procedures and risk assessments. 



This project was initially made possible thanks to funding from Mangorolla CIC and the Wellcome Trust through I'm A Scientist: Get Me Out Of Here! Subsequently, a grant from the University of Reading's Teaching and Learning Development Fund has allowed the project's aims to expand, particularly facilitating research into the education impacts of 3D pollen resources.


I'm A Scientist is an online science outreach competition where groups of scientists chat with school children, answering their questions and competing for their votes to avoid eviction. Oli was voted the winner in November 2017's Neptunium zone - and, having promised to use his prize money to try and 3D-print some pollen models, this is his effort to make it happen.

If I'm A Scientist sounds like something you'd enjoy, sign up! Applications are open all year round. To get a sense of what the competition's like, read this excellent blog by Natasha Myhill, who won November 2017's Cells zone, or have a look at Oli's reflections on his experience here or here. It's highly recommended!



In this project we're working from methods pioneered by Dr Kat Holt and colleagues at Massey University, New Zealand, and by the Bioimaging Research Hub, Cardiff University, UK. These are described in the following key publications:

  • Holt, K.A., Savoian, M.S. (2017) Epi-fluorescence microscopy and 3D printing: An easily implemented approach for producing accurate physical models of micro- and macroscopic biological samples​. In: Méndez-Vilas, A. (ed.) Microscopy and imaging science: practical approaches to applied research and education. Formatex Research Centre, Badajoz, Spain, p.697-702. ISBN: 978-84-942134-9-6 

    • This book chapter describes the pollen preparation techniques (using 2,2'-TDE) and image post-processing, as well as the considerations in moving from confocal microscopy z-stacks to 3D-printed models.​

  • Perry, I., et al. (2017) Production of 3D Printed Scale Models from Microscope Volume Datasets for use in STEM Education. EMS Engineering Science Journal, 1(1):002

    • This paper ​sets out an alternative method for producing 3D-printed models of pollen. As with Holt & Savoian (2017) it discusses practicalities of imaging and printing, but these methods involve much less sample processing than the former.

Dr Kat Holt, Massey University, NZ, with 3D-printed pollen grains

Dr Kat Holt with a 3D-printed model pollen grain. Photo by Warwick Smith/Fairfax NZ. From

More to come...


We will update this section with additional information - such as example risk assessments, standard operating procedures, and walkthroughs - as the project develops. We would love to enable you to create your own scans and models, so please do get in touch if you think we could provide any further helpful information.