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Sternberg fossils bound for Web

6/25/2013

By JUDY SHERARD

By JUDY SHERARD

jsherard@dailynews.net

The Fort Hays State University Sternberg Museum of Natural History fossil collection is coming alive on the computer screen thanks to 3-D scanning.

The project is a collaboration between the museum and Forsyth Library at Fort Hays State University.

The collection can be accessed at fhsu.edu/library in the digital collection.

Student employees photographed the fossils, working with Sternberg employees, said John Ross, Forsyth director.

"Our role is to do the digitization. Their role is to do the selection and handling of the fossil. It's a good way for the employees to work together toward a common goal."

It started two years ago with photographs of the museum's marine sea monsters, said Reese Barrick, Sternberg director.

With the photographs finished, some items will be scanned to produce a 3-D image.

With the collection digitized, "we can put them online, so that people ... can search our collections and see what we've got," Barrick said.

"It's a pretty tedious project because some of the fossils are pretty small, and then, of course, some are really large," Ross said.

Digitizing is one more way to display the fossil collection.

"We're pulling out the drawers and pulling everything out," Barrick said. "Ninety-five percent of the things in the museum aren't displayed."

Most of the marine sea monsters collection has been photographed.

The really interesting bones are selected "to do the 3-D scans. Then you don't have to look at three different pictures. You've got the 3-D scan, and you can spin it around. You can get all of your information off of one scan as opposed to trying to look at three or four or six pictures," Ross said.

While the photographs were taken at Sternberg, the 3-D scanning takes place at the library.

It should bring more people to the museum, Barrick said.

"They can zip online, see what's in your collection and say this is a place I'm going to have to stop," Barrick said. "I've gone to a museum sometimes to look at something, and the one bone that I knew they had, it's smashed or broken into three, and it doesn't do me any good."

The online fossils also can be used for classroom projects.

"An eighth-grader writing a report could come to our site and have the specimens to write about and to show," Ross said. "They could use it for a report or presentation."

The image includes information and a scale to get a size perspective.

On screen zooming is like having your own microscope, Barrick said.

The available information could expand to include a narrative with an expert talking about that specimen and a video of the creature.

"Museums have done some photography with one image," Barrick said. "We've taken it another step (with) three different views. Whether it's an eighth-grade student or a researcher in Sweden, they can actually be able to use it for research or a project where they want to look at things.

Items collected now can be photographed and scanned for research later.

Sternberg is one of the few museums digitizing its collection.

"With the import, we lose some color and resolution, so now we're working on bringing that back into the image," Ross said.

The 3-D printers allow operators to reproduce the scanned item.

Barrick said they could be used for comparative collections for hands-on learning in education departments and classrooms.

"It's a way of getting collections out to classrooms," he said.

The reproductions also could save sensitive real specimens.

"I get goosebumps when I think about a teacher in front of the classroom of grade school students using a 3-D image to describe science," Ross said.

"There's a whole museum," Barrick said. "We've got a lifetime of projects we can do."