Tampa, Florida – Hundreds of thousands of guests have walked under a manatee skeleton that hangs 15 feet above their heads in the lobby of the Museum of Science & Industry in Tampa.
High up on a scissor lift Tuesday and Wednesday, researchers from the University of South Florida created the first-ever 3-D scan of that skeleton, using rotating lasers and hand-held scanners that can spot details smaller than the width of a human hair.
They’re hoping to use this new technology to solve some ancient mysteries.
The USF team is going to compare the scan of the Florida manatee at MOSI to a new 3-D scan they’ll do next month of a huge, extinct relative of manatees. At a museum in Paris, the team will scan the world’s only complete skeleton of an extinct Steller’s Sea Cow.
The Steller’s Sea Cow looked a lot like a manatee – but was the size of a small whale. At up to thirty feet from nose to tail, it was nearly as long as two pickup trucks parked end-to-end.
The entire species was hunted and killed off by humans 250 years ago, before any scientists could study it. Now, with these scans from USF, scientists will be able to learn about the extinct species in new ways.
“We’ll learn how different populations of manatee-like animals evolved around the world,” said Dr. Herbert Maschner, executive director of CVAST, the Center for Virtualization and Applied Spatial Technologies at USF.
“But also it’s part of a bigger project to scan collections from museums and important specimens and make them available online. It’s a new effort from the University of South Florida in our new center… to bring science to the world and make it accessible.”
Powered by a new $4.6 million grant, CVAST will expand on that goal, using this same advanced 3-D scanning technology to study other endangered or extinct animals like Dodos and dinosaurs, plus preserve historic sites and ancient human artifacts, and then share that information with anyone in the world.
With the emerging technology of 3-D printing, people can turn those 3-D scans into real objects. That advanced technology is something guests can now experience every day at MOSI.
“Here, guests can actually touch 3-D printed objects and even help create their own objects using a 3-D printer in an area we call the ‘Idea Zone,’” MOSI spokesperson Grayson Kamm said. “Plus, in our ‘3-D Printing the Future’ exhibition, you’ll see incredible things – like jewelry and even high-heeled shoes – that were all created in a few hours by a 3-D printer.”
Having USF working on this research in the Tampa Bay area helps strengthen our region’s ability to grow the jobs of the future. One study found one-third of all engineering job listings are asking for experience with 3-D printing. And other reports predict the number of jobs connected to 3-D printing to increase dramatically in the next few years.