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Capturing Historical and Modern Preserved Anatomical Specimens for Use in the Digital Age

Capturing Historical and Modern Preserved Anatomical Specimens for Use in the Digital Age

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Main contact:  Dr Paul M. Rea

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An investigation to examine the most appropriate methodology to capture historical and modern preserved anatomical specimens for use in the digital age to improve access - a pilot study

Anatomico-pathological specimens constitute a valuable component of many medical museums or institutional collections but can be limited in their impact on account of both physical and intellectual inaccessibility. Further concerns relate to conservation as anatomical specimens may be subject to tissue deterioration, constraints imposed by spatial or financial limitations of the host institution, or accident-based destruction. In awareness of these issues, a simple and easily implementable methodology to increase accessibility, impact and conservation of anatomical specimens is proposed which combines photogrammetry, object virtual reality (object VR), and interactive portable document format (PDF) with supplementary historical and anatomical commentary. The methodology was developed using wet, dry, and plastinated specimens from the historical and modern collections in the Museum of Anatomy at the University of Glasgow. It was found that photogrammetry yielded excellent results for plastinated specimens and showed potential for dry specimens, while object VR produced excellent photorealistic virtual specimens for all materials visualised. Use of PDF as output format was found to allow for the addition of textual, visual, and interactive content, and as such supplemented the virtual specimen with multidisciplinary information adaptable to the needs of various audiences. The results of this small-scale pilot study indicate the beneficial nature of combining these established techniques into a methodology for the digitisation and utilisation of historical anatomical collections in particular, but also collections of material culture more broadly.

This work was undertaken by Ianto Jocks as part of his MSc in Medical Visualisation and Human Anatomy supervised by Dr Paul M. Rea (Laboratory of Human Anatomy, University of Glasgow) and Dr. Daniel Livingstone (Digital Design Studio, The Glasgow School of Art).