\ Visualizing Evolution: July 2008

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Paleontology in 3D

This is kind of an old story from the BBC (link), on a new method of visualizing organisms fossilized in amber. In the past, only insects in transparent amber could be studied, but these fossils exist in pieces of opaque amber from 100 million years ago.

Using highly accurate X-ray techniques, scientists can now see inside pieces of amber which once held their secrets in the dark:
What's even better is, once the data are collected (in extraordinary detail), 3-D printers can then be used to create larger-than-life models for study:
"In some ways it is better than having the real animal...If you think about it, the real wasp is 4mm and to see it you would need a microscope; and if it's in opaque amber you need a synchrotron. Once it's done as a plastic print, you can see what you want." - Dr Paul Tafforeau
A couple of months ago I attended a talk at the local chapter of the GNSI, where the presenter was demonstrating various methods of casting and molding. She showed, and I wish I had a picture of it, a large 3D printing made of an Emerald Ash Borer beetle, which is a parasite of some concern in this region. From this very detailed plastic model (which I think was about a foot and a half long), they had made multiple plaster copies which were painted and made into educational displays.

3D printing also has other useful applications in paleontology. As demonstrated by the University of Texas High-ResolutionX-ray CT Facility (link), printouts can not only be made of the actual bones:
But also endocasts, that show the form of the interior of the bone. In the case of the cranium this gives an impression of the shape of the brain.
The 3D Museum, a site maintained by the Vertebrate Paleobiology Lab of the University of California, Davis, contains interactive models of fossils that the viewer can rotate and zoom in on.

Their fossil models were created using a high-speed, high-accuracy laser scanner. Their library may be small, but I have hopes that this sort of interactive 3D reference will become more common. (Also see the Virtual Reality Brain Project, an especially useful reference for medical artists stuck with yet another neurology assignment).

The implications of 3D viewing and printing for scientific illustrators are very intriguing. I look forward to the day when 3D printing is common and affordable to the point where I can print out my own reference models to view and light from whatever angle. I think there is value in the tactile qualities of an object; to be able to hold it in your hands and turn it and get a sense of it in a way you never could with an on-screen interactive model. Although I do somewhat fear the day when the 3D printers start printing copies of themselves, evolving, and eventually trying to take over the world.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Weekend Art: Mattis Park

This is a bit off-topic, but I finally bought myself an easel yesterday, so I took it to Mattis Park a couple hours ago and did a quick landscape:
I can barely remember the last time I used actual paint! It was nice to get away from the Wacom tablet and Photoshop for a change.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Weekend Poetry: "Missing Link"

I'm going to start something new here. Every weekend I'll post a poem about evolution. Most of them will probably come from Darwin is My Hero: Poems about Science and Superstition by Craig Gosling (who I mentioned in a previous entry), but I'll try to dig up others. Or if you readers know of any, send them my way!

So here we go!

Missing Link

When looking for the missing link,
it's never where we usually think.
I'm told it looks something like me
and something like a chimpanzee.

I've heard it often has been found
by paleontologists, in the ground.
But, when its missing place is filled,
those who found it still are grilled
about the links before and after
that still are missing. What disaster!

Tracing far back our family tree
a primate lived who gave rise to me.
She lived so many years ago,
her true birthday we'll never know.

But, I'm so glad that she stayed alive,
to begat enough that did survive,
so I could arrive upon the scene,
a hundred percent human-being.

- Craig Gosling

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Dinosaur Supertree

I think this is my first time posting twice in one day, but I simply couldn't wait until tomorrow to share the dinosaur evolutionary tree that was just published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. (The "B" is for "Biological Sciences").

click for really, really big

In the New Scientist article, paleontologist Graeme Lloyd of the University of Bristol explains how they used existing dinosaur cladograms from the literature to compile 440 of the 600 known species into a single diagram, in order to look for larger patterns of diversification.

What they concluded was that dinosaur diversity did not expand as actively as previously thought and that the main bursts of diversification happened in the first fifty million years of dinosaur evolution. Unfortunately, the diagram itself doesn't include an intersecting timeline to show when each of the diversification events occurred--I suppose either to save space or perhaps due to conflicting or missing information within the clades that were gathered to build this one.

The height of each major branch is dependent not on the relative time in which it branched off, but rather the number of branching events within the branch itself. (Did I say "branch" enough there? *sigh*) So although it's an awesome tree, and probably totally useful as a reference, I'm not sure how it shows the patterns of diversification they report to see. But perhaps I'm missing something. Perhaps I'm simply still mesmerized by the pretty colors. So pretty...

edit: I swapped the .jpg-artifact-riddled image from the news report with a cleaner one I made from the original pdf file. If you want the full version (to print out or whatever), I've uploaded the pdf here. Which I originally found here, on Physorg.com's article.


Good news for those of you who had trouble viewing Julian's animation on Microevolution--it is now being hosted on the U of T Biomedical Communications' site. He updated the original post with the new link, but since not everyone's going to be hanging out in my archives, I figured I'd let you all know with a new post. Unless you are hanging out in my archives... why would you do that?

Also, if you like beetles, and who the hell doesn't, here is an amazing collection of beetle photographs by Poul Beckmann called Living Jewels. I wish I knew how he got them all so perfect; they don't even have pins through them! (Found the site through Bug Girl's Blog a while back).

And finally, since three is a nice round number, here's an older article from NewScientist on Six 'uniquely' human traits now found in animals. They are: culture, mind reading (deception), tool use, morality, emotions, and personality.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Amazing Dinosaur Puppetry

My new dream job is working in the studio for "Walking With Dinosaurs Live:"

Monday, July 21, 2008

'Massospondylus' by Andrew Swift

Last year as part of my graduate program I went to the student exchange at the Johns Hopkins program in Baltimore. There I presented my master's project on the ontogeny and locomotion of the dinosaur Massospondylus (look for it in the sidebar). Later, at another talk, I noticed Andrew Swift (from the Medical College of Georgia's Dept. of Medical Illustration) doing a lovely sketch of my second favorite dino:
Either I forgot to email him about it, or he sent it and it got lost in my junk box, because I never got it and then I kind of forgot all about it. But when I saw him at AMI last week I remembered and asked him to send it to me again, not realizing he had completed a full color version:Click for big. Isn't that awesome? My favorite part about Andrew Swift's work is the amazing textures he's able to pull out of Photoshop. So thanks, Andrew... Also, how in the heck did you get that amazing skin texture? Is that a filter? I must know.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

AMI Meeting: Days 3 and 4

Well, so much for nightly reports. Friday night was alumni night, so that was shot, and then after getting home last night I was way too tired to update. So I'm going to very briefly summarize the last two days of the convention.

On Friday I took the exam to become a CMI (Certified Medical Illustrator). The exam was in three parts: anatomy (labeling and multiple choice), business questions, and a drawing section. Once I get my results, assuming I passed, I'll submit a portfolio in order to get those three letters after my name!

I finished the exam after four hours (five were allotted) and had time to go to the silent auction.
There I picked up an illustrated book of poems called Darwin is my Hero by Craig Gosling, who is my new hero. I met the man, he signed my book, and we had a nice (albeit short) chat about medical illustrators, atheism, and the Center for Inquiry. A thought occurred to me and I asked if he knew who was portraying Darwin on the following morning and he cryptically said he shouldn't say.

Friday night was also alumni night, and I joined the University of Toronto staff, alumni, and current students at a downtown bar. It's interesting how the dynamics change when you're no longer a students. My old profs are way cooler than I remembered.
I've missed tall buildings...

Day 4: Saturday

I missed the first talk on Saturday, and instead checked out of the hotel and dragged all of my stuff down to the parking garage, ate a couple donuts (with the stress of the exam gone my appetite suddenly seemed to quadruple), and waited for the 9:45 talk, "A Conversation with Charles Darwin." And it was indeed Craig Gosling, in full-character!
He seemed a bit confused a bit by the laser pointer. 'Darwin' talked about his voyage on the Beagle and the two illustrators he had known then, Augustus Earle and Conrad Martins. Earle was an American and a humanist, concerned over the plight of those under British colonial rule. His view of the world had a huge influence on Darwin. Darwin also emphasized the importance of thinking scientifically and skeptically, especially in our field of science illustration. He said that an illustrator must always search for truth, even if they don't like what they find, and be accurate in their representations, otherwise all they are left with is what he called "graphic fiction" or "illustrative myth."
Elizabeth and John Gould were other artists Darwin considered especially important, for the bird illustrations they produced of Darwin's ornithological collections from his travels.

After that was the Futures Forum, where each year a panel discusses the future of the field of medical illustration. Hot points right now include down-pricing of stock art and selling over the internet, as well as the Orphan Works act and the whole mess with changes to copyright policy. Then we had another fantastic lunch at the Bistro. All of the food the entire week was just fantastic. I felt terribly spoiled.

Next, the Vesalius Trust winners gave their presentations. They made the wise choice of making it a plenary this year instead of a concurrent talk, so that everyone could attend. My classmate Diana Kryski presented her master's research project. Then two of my former professors had a talk on designing information for healthcare, and I went to a very informative and rather entertaining one on anatomical mistakes in anatomy atlases. Not many audiences would erupt into laughter when an incorrect illustration of the human heart appears on the projected screen. I love the AMI.

I decided to skip the BBQ and the talks on Sunday and head home before it got dark. It was only a two hour drive but it absolutely exhausted me. Or maybe it was the four days of so much activity and very little sleep.

This has gotten a bit long, but I have a lot more to say about Gosling's book and presentation, but those I'll save for another post.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

AMI Meeting: Day 2

This was the view outside my window after I finished blogging last night. What a moon!
And here is the view from this morning. I love cityscapes!

Day two was long, and a lot happened. I'll have to go into more detail tomorrow about the presentations, including the HEART-THEMED MOTORCYCLE!
(Sorry it's blurry.) This was designed by Keith Kasnot (seen above) and Craig Foster and built by Paul Yaffe for the Arizona Heart Institute's Founder Dr. Edward B. Dietrich. It has some amazing details. Better photos, and lots of them, on Yaffe's website. Check out the tiny veins painted into the details, and look for the stent! More on that and the other presentations later...

For now, I just need to extend congratulations to Yona Gellert, who won a couple awards for her Paleo flash project "Brains, Bones & Behavior," and to Julian Kirk-Elleker who won for "Antibody Affinity Maturation." Both these projects (in addiction to their new media awards) were also awarded with the brand new category of "New Media Best in Show." Congrats guys! A few of the other 2nd years also won awards for their 2-D pieces, but I regretfully didn't take good enough notes. I will try to get a complete list of the U of T winners up here eventually to make up for that.

Another full day tomorrow. Up bright and early for a talk on molecular illustration. Charles Darwin speaks Saturday at 9:45 a.m. I am so looking forward to seeing what that will be like.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

AMI Meeting: Day 1

Well I'm here: Indianapolis.
What a good looking town! Streets are a bit narrow, though. Got a bit lost, and also forgot about the time change until the last minute (Thanks, Janet), so I missed registration by 8 minutes. Luckily they didn't check name-tags for access to the buffet food, and I munched on some goodies while checking out the salon entries:
I haven't had the chance to see them all, but I intend to go through them specifically for pieces demonstrating evolutionary ideas (of course). I did find two animations focusing on paleo and evolution, though. The media room has entries in the interactive categories which include a Flash dinosaur diorama by fellow U of T student Yona Gellert, as well as Julian's animation on Microevolution. The awards banquet for the salon is tomorrow night.

Then I met up with my friend Crista, who graduated from the Toronto program in '06:
Getting up bright and early to do registration and go to a talk on diagnostic scanner datasets. There's a short talk on Saturday called "A Conversation with Charles Darwin" which may have relevance to this blog!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


They came!
I've checked out Paleoimagery many times before, and now I own my own copy. Very thorough book on the topic, but the reproductions are low-quality and in black and white only. But look! A History of Paleontology Illustration has colored panels in the center!Drool-worthy, isn't it? I will share more about these books in the future, but the rest of this week I will be in Indianapolis, IN for the Association of Medical Illustrators conference. I'll try to do nightly reports from there. Except for Friday night, as I'll likely be unwinding at the bar with my old classmate after our excruciating 5-hour-long certification exam. Wish me luck!

Also, next week I'm going to be doing a post about evolution books for kids. I've found three really good ones, but if anyone out there knows of others, please let me know!

Monday, July 7, 2008

"The Fly"

I just stumbled across this illustration quite by accident on the Molecular Biology Institute at UCLA website, while doing an unrelated Google Image Search, and thought it was too beautiful not to post. Plenty of other neat illustrations on that page, but this one is the tops.

"This image represents the total view of modern biology (ca. 1989) including a model organism (Drosophila), cells (the photoreceptor), molecules (visual pigments; and the membrane protein rhodopsin in its native environment) and recombinant DNA technology (the expression vector). It was painted by Ruben Di Anda, a San Diego artist, based on a design by David Meyer (MBI member)."

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A History of Paleontology Illustration

This is definitely one for my collection: A History of Paleontology Illustration! It's the new book out by Jane P. Davidson, Professor of Art History at the University of Nevada, Reno. And it's available on Amazon.
The book covers depictions of fossils, restorations of plants and animals, and ecological restorations in painting, drawing, sculpture, and in display restorations such as dioramas. Although the main subject of the book is scientific illustration, it also delves into "popular" illustrations such as those found in children's textbooks, popular introductions to paleontology and geology, museum and other public displays, and film.
Very intriguing! I will let you know when my copy gets here.