Phone access to digitised models of bones.
A TEESSIDE University academic has found a digital solution to an unusual problem - a shortage of bones and skeletons for teaching purposes.
Tim Thompson, Professor of Applied Biological Anthropology, has previously warned that bones and skeletons are a finite resource which scientists often find difficult to get hold of.
Professor Thompson has now launched Dactyl, an app which provides digitised models of bones and skeletons, allowing users to zoom in and out, access notes and add their own information on specific features of interest.
Through his company, anthronomics, Tim teamed up with digital experts at Teesside University to use non-contact scanning on existing bones. The technique has helped to create bespoke software which enables users to view complex 3D shapes from all angles by simply manipulating the on-screen image by hand.
"Dactyl provides a way of accessing bone material when not in a laboratory and is extremely useful in places where they do not have access to skeletal material," he explained.
"Teaching skeletal anatomy is really very difficult. The bones we have are very old and fragile so they can't be handled, yet they are very complex 3D shapes which students need to examine to see the fine details.
"The only other alternative is plastic casts which are expensive and don't replicate the fine detail of bone."
For many students, being unable to study actual bones means when they move out of the laboratory much of their learning has to take place when they begin work.
Dactyl will provide a higher level of efficiency whether they work in archaeology or as crime scene scientists.
It works by surface-scanning bones, with the resulting images then fed into the software, allowing people to study the material either in a laboratory or at home.
Professor Thompson, who was recently awarded a prestigious National Teaching Fellowship forexcellence in teaching and support for learning, added: "This doesn't replace studying the actual bones but it is the closest you can get to the real thing."
Dactyl is available at the Apple App Store for iPads and Professor Thompson has been impressed by the number of people downloading the app.
He said: "Dactyl is already being widely downloaded. The demand is there and I am confident that this product will make a significant difference to the quality of teaching and research within the field of forensic anthropology."
| Dr Tim Thompson