A virtual walk on the wild side

Cancel the plane tickets and put away the safari hat. You now need just one thing to learn about wildlife—an internet connection.

Three-dimensional (3D) scanning has been used to create an online gallery of Victoria’s unique animal skeleton collection, and provide a learning resource for the public.

The collection, owned by Victoria’s School of Biological Sciences, includes a number of rare skulls and skeletons such as a rhinoceros, a crocodile and a New Zealand Hector’s dolphin.

“The gallery is interactive—users can zoom in and out from all angles to get a good look at the skeleton’s intricacies,” says Adrian Pike, a technician who has led the project.

“Major museums like the Smithsonian Institute and London’s Natural History Museum are already doing this with their artefacts. It’s really exciting.”

Adrian says the earthquakes in Wellington in 2013 were the impetus for creating the scans.

“The earthquakes triggered concern that if another disaster strikes we may need to teach o  campus, and may not have the right tools to carry this out effectively. Essentially, we wanted to make a backup of these irreplaceable skeletons.”

The focus then turned to using the digital scans as a learning and teaching tool.

“It’s useful for animal biology students to be able to view the specimens outside the laboratory and prepare pre-class or revise post-class,” says Adrian. “We also hope to get the public and school children enthusiastic about biology and other subjects.”

Victoria’s School of Design gave a helping hand during the scanning process, lending their equipment and expertise.

Work has now begun to take CT (computed tomography) scans of the skeletons and print 3D replicas.

“We have fragile bones, such as cat vertebra, that are studied frequently,” says Adrian. “3D printing gives us the opportunity to make plastic models that will be able to be used more and will last longer.”

View the 3D skulls online.