A peek inside

This exercise is a part of Educator Guide: Forest Neutrino Detectors and 3D Vertebrate Anatomy / View Guide
A multi-colored collage of 3-D scans of the insides of 18 vertebrates.
With the completion of a yearslong project called openVertebrate, the insides of more than 13,000 museum specimens are seeing the light of day. Digital reconstructions of CT scans (some shown) show the anatomy of fluid-preserved vertebrates, as well as last meals, yet-to-be-born offspring and more.openVertebrate

Directions for teachers

Ask students to read the Science News article “See 3-D models of animal anatomy from openVertebrate’s public collection” and answer the set of questions below. Students can work alone or with a partner for the second section of the activity, “Making observations.” For background information on CT scans, point students to the Science News Explores article “Scientists Say: CT scan.”

Directions for students

Read the Science News article “See 3-D models of animal anatomy from openVertebrate’s public collection” and answer the questions below.

A need for models

1. Watch the video linked in the Science News article “Here’s why pumpkin toadlets are such clumsy jumpers.” What aspects of the toad’s behavior in the video may confuse scientists? How could images such as those shared through the openVertebrate project help scientists understand the toad’s behavior?

While most toads can land on their feet, these toads cannot control their landings. Scientists may have been confused as to why the toads were unable to orient or stabilize themselves midair. The images generated from CT scans allowed scientists to see the structure of the toad’s inner ears. That revealed that these toads have tiny inner ears that don’t work well for sensing body positioning and rotation, which likely contributes to their clumsy, uncontrolled landings.

2. What are the benefits of using CT scan-generated 3-D models of specimens to learn more about animal anatomy? How does this compare with traditional cross-sections viewed by dissection?

A 3-D model allows scientists to visualize the internal anatomy of an organism. As compared with a traditional cross-section, a 3-D model allows researchers to see more of an organism’s internal anatomy and its arrangement. Using CT scans to study a specimen causes less damage than dissection would.

3. Describe how the 3-D models of each organism were created.

To take CT scans, scientists placed specimens in tubes and took X-rays of each specimen as its tube was rotated, producing a 3-D image. Prior to scanning, some specimens were soaked in iodine to make the muscles and organs visible.

4. What was one of the challenges scientists faced while developing a method to scan each specimen?

Each specimen needed to be mounted inside of the tube. But vertebrates come in various shapes, so scientists needed to find a material that would hold the specimens in place without damaging the samples or showing up on the CT scan.

5. Specimens in museum collections are often put on display or used for scientific study. Why might the majority of these specimens be scanned without soaking them in iodine?

The iodine stains organs and muscles, altering the sample. These changes may make the samples unacceptable for other scientists’ research or may make them unpresentable for museum displays.

6. How will having a freely available repository of 3-D models or CT scans of specimens increase scientific understanding?

It will increase the accessibility of data on specimens and allow for more scientists to do research on individual organisms and compile information on different species. It also allows citizen scientists to access the repository and potentially contribute to scientific studies.

Making observations

Visit the openVertebrate Project page from the Florida Museum. Go to the Specimen Gallery and click the link taking you to Sketchfab. Once on the Florida Museum Sketchfab page, navigate to the Collections tab and explore the collections “Fish Diversity – CT Scans” and “Herpetology.” Select a specimen in one of these collections that displays internal anatomy. This internal anatomy can include bones, organs, or muscle tissue. Answer the following questions.

1. What collection and specimen did you choose?

Student answers will vary but should identify their selected specimen and the collection it is from.

2. Take a moment to explore your specimen. The 3-D model is fully navigable. Use the mouse wheel to zoom in and out, the left mouse button to rotate, and the right mouse button to pan or move the image. What do you observe about the specimen you chose?

Student answers will vary but should highlight key aspects of the images.

3. Would you have been able to make all the same observations exploring a physical skeleton of your specimen? Why or why not?

Student answers will vary but should identify if the 3-D model contained additional information that could not be observed in the skeletal remains of the same organism. This additional information may include labeling, scales, organs, muscles, or the inside structure of skeletal cavities, including the skull. Students with knowledge of fish species may also mention that some of these species are cartilaginous and do produce a calcified skeleton.

4. Based on your observations, form a scientific question about your organism or specimen.

Student answers will vary. Two example scientific questions: “What material are the sungazer lizard’s scales made of?” or “How does the Brazilian electric ray’s skull shape contribute to the survival of this species?”

5. What would you need to investigate or answer your scientific question?

Student answers will vary. Example responses: “I would have to take samples of the sungazer lizard’s scales and perform a chemical analysis to identify the molecules present” or “To figure out how the skull shape of the Brazilian electric ray contributes to its survival I would have to observe the ray in its natural habitat and take note of its behavior.”