The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago has one of the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons around, known as Sue. Sue has strange holes in her jawbone, which palaentologists were trying to explain. A 3D scan of the five foot long skull was necessary, and the high resolution dental scanner at the museum was not capable of handling such a large scan. The museum then called in the help of the Camera Culture group, a part of the Media Lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The MIT researchers rigged a low cost solution with a Kinect, that provided a point cloud of Sue’s skull, and a free software known as MeshLab that analysed the point cloud and converted it into a 3D shape. The whole solution was rigged for under $150, which was a low cost alternative to 3D scanners that cost 200 times that figure. The resulting scan had a resolution of 500 micrometers, which was less than the 50 to 100 micrometers offered by high resolution 3D scanners that cost tens of thousands of dollars. The resolution was good enough for studying the mysterious holes in the skull.

Anshuman Das, a research scientist at the Camera Culture group says “A lot of people will be able to start using this. That’s the message I want to send out to people who would generally be cut off from using technology — for example, paleontologists or museums that are on a very tight budget. There are so many other fields that could benefit from this.”

The scan however, raised more questions than answers. Scientists had theorised that the holes were caused either by the bite of another dinosaur, or because of an infection in the mouth. The irregular spacing of the holes ruled out the possibility of a bite, and the holes tapered inwards from the outside, which meant that it could not be an infection. The holes in Sue’s skull still remain unexplained.

Publish date: July 6, 2017 7:16 pm| Modified date: July 6, 2017 7:16 pm

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