High school students discovered the fossil skeleton of a Parasaurolophus dinosaur within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah in 2009. Upon analysis of the skeleton of the dinosaur dubbed "Joe," researchers identified it as the most complete specimen yet known for its particular species, and as a result, created 3D digital scans of the entire fossil.
The team of researchers was led by Dr. Andy Farke Augustyn Family Curator at the Alf Museum, and included three high school students—Derek Chok, Annisa Herrero, and Brandon Scolieri—from the Webb Schools. It also included Dr. Sarah Werning, an expert on bone biology in extinct and living animals, and an NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Stony Brook University.
Detailed in the research paper released by the team is the process of scanning the fossil in order to create the 3D model. The team used a Toshiba Aquilion 64 scanner to perform CT scans at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center, Claremont, California. For larger skull blocks, the skull was scanned at 120 kV and 350 mA, with slice thickness of 0.5 mm and reconstruction diameter of 300 mm. This produced an in-plane resolution of 0.586 mm by 0.586 mm per pixel.
After additional preparation, the left side of the skull was rescanned at 120 kV and 400 mA, with slick thickness of 0.5mm, and reconstruction diameter of 29.687 mm, using a standard bone reconstruction algorithm, resulting in an in-plane resolution of 0.45 mm by 0.45 mm per pixel. In addition, the isolation portion of the braincase and maxilla were scanned at identical parameters, except for a reconstruction diameter of 140.625 mm, resulting in an in-plane resolution of 0.274 mm by 0.274 mm.
Data produced by the CT imaging was then segmented and measured in 3D slicer 4.2 visualization and medical imaging software to produce the 3D model of Joe’s skull. Due to the internal fracturing of the skull and areas of poor contrast between bone and matrix, a combination of automatic thresholding and manual segmentation were used in order to complete the full model.
All 3D models are available for free on the project’s website, which serves as a virtual museum exhibit, highlighting Joe’s story and what the fossil tells us about Earth’s history.
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