Geek Out on Some Amazing 3D Models of Vertebrate Species

On September 1, launched a $2.5 million project called "Open Exploration of Vertebrate Diversity in 3D" or as many scientists know it - the “scan-all-vertebrates” project. 

Sponsored by the National Science Foundation, spearheaded by the University of Florida and main researcher David Blackburn, a herpetologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, the project will be a collaboration between 16 universities and museums across the U.S. and will continue for four years. The result will be a free and open online database of 3-D scans revealing the internal anatomy of more than 20,000 vertebrate species.

Cordylus namakuiyus skeleton by UF Herpetology on Sketchfab


"The vision is to get specimens off a shelf, into as many hands as possible, and into the context of big-scale research questions," Blackburn says for Science.

The project will set up a network of digitization centers across the U.S., where fluid-reserved specimens, with their innards intact, will be brought in from museums and scanned. 

Smaug barbentonensis / Florida Museum of Natural History / Ed Stanley

The researchers will use x-ray computed tomography (CT) scanning to generate high-resolution digital anatomical data. Some of the species will also undergo a dyeing treatment to boost the contrast on soft tissues and provide clear views of the muscles, circulatory system and brain. 

Details of internal anatomy / Florida Museum of Natural History / Ed Stanley, David Blackburn

The scans will be hosted on MorphoSource - an on-line platform for 3-D data of biological specimens. Upgrades in the interface and functionality will improve the users’ capacity to explore the media and conduct scientific studies with it, as well as engage educators and students.

Smaug giganteus by UF Herpetology on Sketchfab

The ultimate goal of the project is to catalyze research activity and help scientists integrate their work across various fields like taxonomy, evolution, developmental biology, comparative physiology, functional anatomy, paleontology, and ecology.

Heleophrynidae: Hadromophryne natalensis by UF Herpetology on Sketchfab

But this unique database can aid other disciplines as well. Science writes, for example, Cassandra Donatelli at Tufts University is using the 3-D models to help her design an energy-efficient robot for underwater exploration by mimicking the joints and movements of long and slender fish.

Lanthanotus boeneensis - the only living species in its family / Florida Museum of Natural History / Ed Stanley

As the Florida Museum wrote, announcing the news: “With virtual access to specimens, researchers could peel away the skin of a passenger pigeon to glimpse its circulatory system, a class of third-graders could determine a copperhead’s last meal, undergraduate students could 3-D print and compare skulls across a range of frog species and a veterinarian could prepare for a surgery on a giraffe at a zoo.”

… And a regular nerd could blissfully geek out for hours, searching for, let's say, anatomical similarities between Daenerys' dragons and various reptile species. 

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

How KGB founder Iron Felix justified terror and mass executions

The legacy of Felix Dzerzhinsky, who led Soviet secret police in the "Red Terror," still confounds Russia.

Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Felix Dzerzhinsky led the Cheka, Soviet Union's first secret police.
  • The Cheka was infamous for executing thousands during the Red Terror of 1918.
  • The Cheka later became the KGB, the spy organization where Russia's President Putin served for years.
Keep reading Show less

A world map of Virgin Mary apparitions

She met mere mortals with and without the Vatican's approval.

Strange Maps
  • For centuries, the Virgin Mary has appeared to the faithful, requesting devotion and promising comfort.
  • These maps show the geography of Marian apparitions – the handful approved by the Vatican, and many others.
  • Historically, Europe is where most apparitions have been reported, but the U.S. is pretty fertile ground too.
Keep reading Show less

Brain study finds circuits that may help you keep your cool

Research by neuroscientists at MIT's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory helps explain how the brain regulates arousal.

Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP/ Getty Images
Mind & Brain

MIT News

The big day has come: You are taking your road test to get your driver's license. As you start your mom's car with a stern-faced evaluator in the passenger seat, you know you'll need to be alert but not so excited that you make mistakes. Even if you are simultaneously sleep-deprived and full of nervous energy, you need your brain to moderate your level of arousal so that you do your best.

Keep reading Show less