Helping Paleontologists Learn More About Dinosaurs With VR

How dinosaurs evolved into modern-day birds could soon be studied around the world, thanks to virtual reality.

The University of South Florida’s Center for Visualization & Applied Spatial Technologies and Integrative Biology departments are bringing dinosaurs to life in VR. Biology professor Ryan Carney, PhD, MPH, MBA, is using the immersive tech to create interactive holographic images of dinosaurs in an effort to help scientists better understand the origins of flight and the connection of prehistoric fossils to modern flying species.

Dr. Carney uses a combination of X-ray, lasers, and computer animation to generate the 3D images of the fossils that are then shown to paleontologists and students using virtual and augmented reality. Researchers and students are able to fully observe and interact with the models, gaining valuable insight into the anatomy of the prehistoric species without ever having to step foot in a museum.

The 3D collection includes a fossil of the Archaeopteryx, widely believed to be the “missing link” in the evolution of prehistoric flying species to the birds of today. Thanks to the accessible nature of VR, researchers around the globe will now have access to a key piece of evidence in studies of the origin of flight that was previously limited by geographic location. (Only 12 relevant fossils, all in Germany, have been found thus far.)

Carney’s creative work has been recognized and honored by the National Geographic Society, who chose the professor as a member of their “Emerging Explorers” class of 2017. The society also granted Dr. Carney $10,000 for the use of further research and exploration.

Though Dr. Carney and his team at the University of South Florida are some of the first scientists to fully integrate VR in their work, based on the success of this project and the limitless potential for virtual reality as a tool for scientific research and data analysis, it’s likely that a number of similar projects will begin to pop up in the near future.

About the Scout

Presley West

Emory University student, VRScout Writer, Storyteller, and Amateur Dog Walker.

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