Mar 30, 2017 | By Benedict

The D’Arcy Thompson Museum at Scotland’s University of Dundee has created a library of 3D models documenting its zoological collection. CT scanners and handheld structured light scanners were used to turn the originals into digital files, and the collection been accessed from more than 25 countries.

3D model of an African Forest Elephant skull

One of the most culturally exciting benefits of 3D scanning technology is the creation so-called “virtual museums”: online collections of digital 3D models representing artifacts, animals, artworks, or virtually anything else you’re likely to find in a regular museum. These virtual museums probably won’t replace their physical ancestors, but they do open up amazing new possibilities in terms of accessibility.

The University of Dundee’s D’Arcy Thompson Museum, for example, has just digitized a large part of its zoological collection, and has already had more than 10,000 virtual visitors from more than 25 countries accessing the digital 3D models. That’s probably more volume and variation than it could have expected in foot traffic, and the figures will likely grow even higher as the museum adds more and more items to the online database.

Prairie dogs, puffer fish, giant tortoises, and the skulls of elephants and rhinoceroses are just some of the exotic items to have been 3D scanned by D’Arcy Thompson Museum staff as the institute looks to become part of a digital museum revolution. A combination of 3D scanning tools was used to digitize the collection, with hand-held structured light scanners used to capture larger specimens and CT scanners used for smaller ones.

The D’Arcy Thompson Museum is celebrating the 100th annivesary of D'Arcy Thompson's most famous work

Incredibly, the 3D scanning project has helped to not only bring the museum’s collection to a wider audience, it has actually served to improve the accuracy of the collection. One item was uploaded to the online collection and labeled as an Indian Elephant, but an expert viewing the specimen online disagreed with the classification and immediately let the museum know. After some discussion, museum experts agreed that the specimen was in fact the skull of an African Forest Elephant.

“Every visit to the D’Arcy Thompson Zoology Museum throws up something else fascinating,” said Dr Caroline Erolin, MSc Medical Art course coordinator at the University’s Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification (CAHID) and instigator of the virtual museum project. “My focus is on the future of medical art and artists, particularly in relation to new and developing technologies, and this gave me the opportunity to explore the collection further while also honing my 3D scanning and modeling design skills. It’s been incredible to see the models come to life, as it were.”

3D scanning and processing the specimens

Erolin added that, while she would like to digitize every single specimen in the museum’s collection, the project will have to work on a smaller scale for the time being. Her students will continue to 3D scan and digitize certain specimens, while some 3D models—especially those of fragile specimens—will even be 3D printed so that (real) visitors to the museum can pick them up and handle them. These 3D printed items could also be used as teaching aids.

“This is a great way to make parts of D’Arcy Thompson’s amazing collection more accessible to audiences around the world, particularly appropriate in this anniversary year when there is huge international interest in D’Arcy’s work,” said museum curator Matthew Jarron, speaking of the 100th anniversary of D’Arcy Thompson’s highly regarded book On Growth and Form. Thompson, after whom the museum is named, was the University of Dundee’s first Professor of Biology.

“We can also use the scans within the museum, by printing the models in 3D so visitors can handle them,” Jarron added.

The zoological 3D models can be viewed in 3D or in VR here.



Posted in 3D Scanning



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