Public Release: 

Anatomist is fleshing out dinosaur heads, reaching people about science

Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

Boston, MA--Accurately depicting dinosaur anatomy has come a long way since the science fiction films of the 1960s. In celebration of the American Association of Anatomists' (AAA) 125th anniversary, renowned dinosaur anatomy expert Dr. Lawrence Witmer will deliver a lecture reflecting on the AAA's first President Joseph Leidy, also a preeminent American dinosaur paleontologist, and the modernizing of prehistoric bones.

Witmer will show how the Visible Interactive Dinosaur (VID) project recreates soft-tissue systems within a 3D digital environment. VID, funded by the National Science Foundation, is a global project that aims to digitally put back all of the tissues that time has stripped away to create the most realistic renderings of dinosaurs science has seen.

"Nature has left us bones," said Witmer. "We need to flesh them out, put back muscles, nerves, sinuses, and animate the skeleton. VID does that. We look at animals today, starting with dinosaur descendants - birds and crocodiles - and we study them to have an understanding of how the dinosaur jaw worked, and what their brain structure was," he added.

"Hollywood has been bringing dinosaurs to life for years, but as scientists we can do it in a controlled way to see how these anatomical systems actually work," said Witmer. "Dinosaurs present interesting problems; the solutions help explain scientific issues in physiology and anatomy, such as how does a 50-ton animal move around? How did they pump blood to a head 30 ft away?" The answers inform today's anatomy questions.

Dr. Witmer sees the work of VID as having a dual purpose--helping other paleontologists and educating, even inspiring, the public about physiology and anatomy.

"The study of dinosaurs is important because it allows us to reach people about science. The fact is, dinosaurs are popular but science is still considered 'hard' by many people. So one of the missions of VID is to use dinosaurs as a tool to excite people about anatomy and science. We lure them with dinosaurs and sneak in cool science," he said. The result is a win for both scientific advancement and science advocacy.

Witmer will discuss the advanced 3D imaging of VID at a plenary session on Monday, April 22, 10:30 am-12:30 pm at Experimental Biology in Boston.


About Experimental Biology 2013

Experimental Biology's mission is to share the newest scientific concepts and research findings shaping future and current clinical advances - and to give scientists and clinicians an unparalleled opportunity to hear from colleagues working on similar biomedical problems using different disciplines. With six sponsoring societies and another 20 U.S. and international guest societies, the annual meeting brings together scientists from throughout the United States and the world, representing dozens of scientific areas, from laboratory to translational to clinical research. The meeting also offers a wide spectrum of professional development sessions.

About the American Association of Anatomists

AAA is the professional home for an international community of biomedical researchers and educators focusing on anatomical form and function. We promote the three-dimensional understanding of structure as it relates to development and function, from molecule to organism. AAA was founded in Washington, D.C. in 1888, for the "advancement of anatomical science."

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