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Digital Morphology - A unique biological visualization library @ DigiMorph.Org

Digital Morphology, part of the National Science Foundation Digital Libraries Initiative, develops and serves unique 2D and 3D visualizations of the internal and external structure of living and extinct vertebrates, and a growing number of 'invertebrates.' The Digital Morphology library contains nearly a terabyte of imagery of natural history specimens that are important to education and central to ongoing cutting-edge research efforts.  The Digital Morphology library site now serves imagery, optimized for Web delivery, for more than 750 specimens contributed by almost 150 collaborating researchers from the world's premiere natural history museums and universities.

Digital Morphology visualizations are now in use in classrooms and research labs around the world and can be seen in a growing number of museum exhibition halls. Digital Morphology visualizations have been featured by the media in television broadcasts by NOVA, the BBC's HORIZON, and NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC EXPLORER, and in print by NATURE, SCIENCE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, THE NEW YORK TIMES, and many other magazines and newspapers.

The information core for the Digital Morphology library is generated using a state-of-the-art high-resolution X-ray computed tomographic (X-ray CT) scanner. This instrument is comparable to a conventional medical diagnostic CAT scanner, but with greater resolution and penetrating power. Our CT scanner was custom built and optimally designed to explore the internal structure of natural objects and materials at macro- and microscopic levels. This instrument is at the center of The University of Texas High-Resolution X-ray Computed Tomography Facility (UTCT), a designated NSF-supported Multi-User Facility.  Now in its seventh year, UTCT has scanned hundreds of rocks, meteorites, fossils, and modern organisms, providing unique data and visualizations for a wide range of interests in education and research. UTCT was established with funding from The University of Texas Geology Foundation, The University of Texas College of Natural Sciences, the National Sciences Foundation, and the W. M. Keck Foundation.

Recognizing the revolutionary importance to science and education of pioneering informatics enterprises such as GenBank and the Visible Human, Digital Morphology is also an experiment in informatics. The Digital Morphology project explores new technologies for archiving, transforming, studying, publishing, and serving digital biological information. One of our major goals is to develop and implement new software for transforming CT and other tomographic data into novel and informative 3D visualizations of complex biological objects.  The legacy of this ongoing project is a growing library of unique information on comparative organismal morphology, generated as we prototype new visualization protocols, novel types of biological data, and new educational approaches, and explore the Web and CD-ROM as vehicles for data dissemination.

The Digital Morphology site currently presents:

  • QuickTime animations of complete stacks of serial CT sections
  • Animated 3D volumetric movies of complete specimens
  • Stereolithography (STL) files of 3D objects that can be viewed interactively and rapidly prototyped into scalable physical 3D objects that can be handled and studied as if they were the original specimens
  • Informative introductions to the scanned organisms, often written by world authorities
  • Pertinent bibliographic information on each specimen
  • Useful links
  • A course resource for our 'Digital Methods for Paleontology' course, in which students learn how to generate all of the types of imagery displayed on the Digital Morphology site

The Digital Morphology project is an outgrowth of The University of Texas Digital Morphology Group, an informal association of students, researchers and educators from many different universities that collaborate to develop useful new digital tools, and to exploit digital technologies across a wide spectrum of challenges in research and education. The Digital Morphology Group includes scientists, museum curators, software developers, computer programmers, multimedia and Web designers, and publishers who meet informally, as well as in grant-funded research projects and training programs.

At present, our broadest common interest is the manipulation, interpretation, and dissemination of high-resolution X-ray CT datasets, and the associated problem of assembling and serving libraries of large-volume digital datasets. Toward this end, the Digital Morphology Group, directed by Dr. Timothy Rowe, won funding from the National Science Foundation's Digital Libraries Initiative. The Initiative is a multiagency effort that seeks to further research fundamental to the next generation of digital libraries, and to advance the use of globally distributed, networked information resources.

In addition to the numerous researchers and institutions who permit Digital Morphology to feature their specimens, this site represents the efforts of a number of people (listed in alphabetical order):

  • Project Director: Timothy Rowe
  • Site design: Julian Humphries and Farrah Welch
  • Site implementation: Julian Humphries, Jessie Maisano, Ted Macrini, and Farrah Welch.
  • Specimen summaries (unless otherwise specified): Ted Macrini, Jessie Maisano, Pamela Owen, and Timothy Rowe.
  • CT scanning: Matthew Colbert, Cambria Denison, Richard Ketcham, and Jessie Maisano.
  • Image processing of CT data (unless otherwise specified): Amy Balanoff, Matthew Colbert, Megan Demarest, Richard Ketcham, Ted Macrini, Jessie Maisano, Pamela Owen, Rachel Racicot, Stephen Roberson, and Farrah Welch.
  • UTCT InspeCTor java applet development: David Guzman and Denise Ketcham (Center for Instructional Technologies), and Richard Ketcham.

Copyright Information

All text, images, and animations displayed on this website were produced by members of the Digital Morphology Group, in conjunction with The University of Texas High-Resolution X-ray Computed Tomography Facility, unless otherwise noted. The images may be used for the personal education of website visitors. Any commercial reproduction, redistribution, publication, or other use of the website content, by electronic means or otherwise, is prohibited unless pursuant to a written agreement signed by the copyright holder.

Please contact Dr. Timothy Rowe (rowe@mail.utexas.edu) regarding copyright information and/or queries.

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