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Digitization of Surgical Instruments from the RCPS of Glasgow Historical Collection

Digitization of Surgical Instruments from the RCPS of Glasgow Historical Collection

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Main contact:  Dr Paul M. Rea



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Digitization of Surgical Instruments from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow Historical Collection to Support an Online Learning Module

When looking at the history of surgical procedures and general surgical practice, there is a stark difference between the state of the discipline in the 1500s compared to the present day. The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow (RCPSG), contains a large collection of surgical tools dating back to the 18th Century. Many of the instruments are fragile and must be well protected within glass cases due to their historical significance. This protection of historical artefacts is much needed for conservation, but reduces the ability for individuals to appreciate the importance of these tools. To address issues such as this, many collections are now displayed online. However, most digital libraries only present objects as static images, reducing the level of interaction, control and reality. This can be improved upon with the development of 3D digital models. However, problems arise when 3D scanning objects that feature reflective surfaces; the reflection of light or glare obscures common reference points required to compose a 3D digital model. It must be questioned as to whether 3D digital models of specular artefacts can be obtained by 3D scanning methods and whether such visualizations are more effective than static 2D images. Hence, the present study proposes a method of digitization and presentation of historical surgical artefacts, with international significance, via the application of photogrammetry and virtual reality software for use in an online learning module for the module “Medicine and Society in Europe, 1500-1930” at the Open University (OU). Six items of surgical importance from the historical collections from the RCPSG were included in the sample group, many being composed of metal and/or glass. Image capture was achieved with a Nikon D5300 digital camera, and 52mm polarizing filter, with both static and dynamic photogrammetric methods employed. Images were then processed through two photogrammetric software packages, Agisoft Photoscan and Autodesk Memento, and one virtual reality package, Garden Gnome Object 2VR. The online learning module, including the obtained digital models, was constructed using the website-building software Moodle. On examination, the presence of glare resulted in incomplete 3D models after processing in Photoscan and Memento. However, it was possible to construct complete 2D virtual reality models via Object 2VR. Although not technically three-dimensional, 2VR models can be manipulated positionally to view the artefact from all angles, giving the impression of a 3D experience. The Object 2VR models were implemented into the online learning module to provide a more interactive and realistic experience for learners. It is hoped that future research can be performed to determine the efficiency of this learning module in transferring information to learners. 3D digitization of specular artefacts is still a problem in the research field, and is yet to be solved. However, the use of 2D virtual reality models could prove to be a useful alternative until 3D scanning of specular objects is perfected. This paper shall present the workflow methodology to ensure effective representation of historical surgical instruments of international significance, to enable a wider reach of education, in a more interactive means than used in many other digital museums.

This work was undertaken by Kirsty Earley as part of her 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). This was in partnership with the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow and the Open University.