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The modern skeleton

Translating natural history into interactive and immersive experiences

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Natural history museums provide a direct connection to our current world and past worlds through natural history objects (e.g., skeletons, dioramas, fossils, minerals). These museums provide powerful foundational experiences, especially for children and for people without ready access to the natural world and even are part of the critical ‘intense interest’ developmental stage in young children that facilitates asking questions, finding answers, and gaining expertise.

Although inspiring, the public interaction between a skeleton of an extinct animal is largely passive even with associated museum exhibit information panels. Therefore, we will create a ‘living exhibits’ from a skeleton of extinct animals by digitizing a skeleton of an important dinosaur relative and creating a unique interactive learning environment through a combination of the latest paleontological information, Augmented Reality (AR), and interactive information. Our second goal is to greatly increase the access to physical and digital models and information about extinct animal skeletons. This is critical because the creation of most mounted skeletons is prohibitively expensive and requires expertise in anatomy and engineering, and is typically restricted to a single or a few museums. Our skeletal reconstruction process and product essentially creates an ‘open access’ skeleton and generates wider museum inclusivity across the world.

Our unique project will bring static skeletons alive by creating interactive experiences that immerse users into the biology of extinct animals and how we reconstruct that paleobiology of the animal through technology. This project will include several cutting edge technologies including surface scanning and CT technology (for reproducing the small, delicate bones), 3D printing, and Augmented Reality to reach local (visiting the skeleton, digital component), national (printing their own skeleton, digital component), and worldwide audiences (printing their own skeleton, digital component); this has never been done before.

Our process and products of this project center on a single species of extinct reptile. However, our methodologies, from skeletal construction to creating the user experience, are easily transferable to not just other skeletons of extinct or living animals but to any museum object. Moreover, the software that will be developed could be implemented with any museum object, whether it was 3D printed or not.