In our 106th episode, we had the pleasure of speaking with Jesse Pruitt, digital preparator at the Idaho Virtualization Lab and technology specialist at Idaho State University. The Idaho Virtualization Lab is a research unit of the Idaho Museum of Natural History on the campus of Idaho State University. The lab educates, researches, and provides informatics (information science) to social and natural sciences. And they do this through by virtually archiving museum collections, fossils, and other items, so that anyone can access specimens and collections for research. Jesse does data acquisition and processing, web distribution, and makes 3D models of fossils. Jesse is also a paleontology modeler and animator.
Below are links to all the projects we chatted about with Jesse:
- Virtual Museum of Idaho
- Idaho Virtualization Lab
- Eating with a saw for a jaw: functional morphology of the jaws and tooth-whorl in Helicoprion davisii
- Jaws for a spiral-tooth whorl: CT images reveal novel adaptation and phylogeny in fossil Helicoprion
- Tiktaalik roseae
- ArtStation: Jesse Pruitt
Episode 106 is also about Einiosaurus, a ceratopsian with a curvy nasal horn.
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In this episode, we discuss:
- The dinosaur of the day: Einiosaurus
- Name means “buffalo lizard”
- Name is a combination of the Blackfeet word “eini” which means buffalo, and Ancient Greek “saurus”
- Centrosaurine ceratopsian that lived in the Cretaceous in what is now Montana
- Named in 1995 by Scott Sampson
- Type species is Einiosaurus procurvicornis
- Species name “procurvicornis” means “with a forward curving horn”
- Found in two bonebeds, at least 15 individuals of different ages, with 3 adult skulls and hundreds of other bones
- Jack Horner found the bonebeds in 1985 and they were excavated 1985-1989 by field crews from the Museum of the Rockies
- Bonebeds may be a result of a bunch of Einiosaurus’ around a water hole that was decreasing in size during a dry season (died from drought) or they drowned while trying to cross a river
- Originally the bonebeds was thought to have a new species of Styracosaurus, and the name Styracosaurus makeli was published in 1990 but no description, so it’s an invalid nomen nudum. Horner found 3 species in the bonebeds and refereed to them as Type A, B, C. Scott Sampson described Type B in 1995 and named it Einiosaurus procurvicornis
- May have been a herding animal (based on being found in bonebeds)
- Herbivore, about 14.8 ft (4.7 m) long and weighing 1.3 tons
- Had a narrow, pointed snout, with a downward curving nasal horn that looks like a bottle opener (though that may only be in some adults)
- Horn grew larger with age
- In 2010, Julie Reizner studied individuals found at the Dino Ridge site and found Einosaurus rapidly grew until it was 3-5 years old, and then it grew much more slowly, probably when it became sexually mature
- Nasal horn was covered in a sheath, and it had larged, rounded scales over its eyes, based on a 2009 reconstruction of the skin and horn on ceratopsids by Tobin Hieronymus and colleagues
- Had a pair of large spikes that projected backwards from its small frill
- The horns over the eye were low and short
- Had a short frill on its neck compared to chasmosaurine ceratopsians like Chasmosaurus
- Had smaller horns on the outside edges of the neck frill (probably for display, though may have helped protect it against tyrannosaurids like Gorgosaurus and Daspletosaurus)
- Had a sharp beak that could shear through plants
- Had a battery of teeth to help eat tough plant material
- All known Einiosaurus fossils are currently at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana
- Ceratopsians were ornithiscians
- Lived in North America and Asia
- They had beaks and cheek teeth to eat fiberous vegetation
- Also had a frill (used for defense, regulating body temperature, attracting mates, or signaling danger)
- Probably traveled in herds and could then stampede if threatened
- Fun fact: There are two dinosaurs named after Michael Crichton: Cedrorestes crichtoni, which means literally “Cedar Mountain Dweller,” and is either an iguanodontian or hadrosaur that was found in the cedar mountain formation, along with Utahraptor and Gastonia, and Crichtonsaurus bohlini, which means “Crichton’s lizard,” and is a small ankylosaur; unfortunately the few remains assigned to the species aren’t unique, so it’s likely a dubious genus.
This episode was brought to you by:
Artemesia Publishing. They not only publish award-winning dinosaur books, but also “coloring puzzles” which can be put together and then colored using markers, crayons, or colored pencils. You can get more information at apbooks.net and you can purchase the “coloring puzzles” at http://www.paleoartisans.com/Catalog/fuseaction/ListProducts/classid/152603.
For those who may prefer reading, see below for the full transcript of our interview with Jesse Pruitt:
Sabrina: We’re here today with Jesse Pruitt, digital proprietor at the Idaho Virtualization lab and technology specialist at Idaho State University. The Idaho Virtualization lab is a research unit of the Idaho Museum of Natural History on the campus of Idaho State University. And the lab educates, researches, and provides informatics which is information science to social and natural sciences and they do this through virtually archiving museum collections, fossils and other items so that anyone can access specimens and collections for research. And Jesse also does data acquisition and processing, web distribution and makes 3D models of fossils. And he’s also a paleontology modeler and animator. So how did you first become interested in dinosaurs?
Jesse Pruitt: As probably your average American child, I grew up loving dinosaurs, I had dinosaur books and flash cards and stuff like that when I was a kid who grew up in rural Mississippi, so there wasn’t a whole lot of dinosaurs to be found there, but I would go out fishing and find fossils along the banks of the rivers there, so this is something I have had looking in my whole life.
Sabrina: Cool. So then what led you to this more tech side of things with the scanning and 3D modeling?
Jesse Pruitt: That’s a long story. Ultimately it was an injury on a job. I was working as a mechanic and got injured and ended up tearing my rotator cuff and I was unable to do mechanical work anymore, so I went back to the University as pretty much a last resort to try and find myself a better job. Then when I went there, I met with a professor; I was going to be an archaeologist because Idaho State University doesn’t offer paleontology as an undergrad track.
So I was going to do archaeology because it’s fairly close and I’m going to be interested in that world as well. So I met with a professor and he just happened to be a director at the Idaho Museum of Natural History at the time, and he chatted with me for a bit and realized that I really wasn’t interested in that, I was more interested in fossils. So he put me into contact with the collections manager in paleo, and then entering there for a few years and then through a research project just getting to 3D technology, working on the [inaudible 00:02:15]. That was my first dive into the digital realm was that shark and process and CT data.
Sabrina: Cool. You sent us a link about that, right, and putting together that exhibit.
Jesse Pruitt: Right.
Sabrina: So can you talk a little bit about that experience and your role specifically for that?
Jesse Pruitt: Sure, I started as an undergraduate research project that was told, if you want to get into any grad school, you need to have some research under your belt to help you set you aside from the rest of the applicants. So took care of the plan because at the time it was—very little was known about it other than the shark and it had this weird spiral teeth. So I set about trying to figure out how that whirl spiral of teeth grew, and that was the main bases of it. So I did a bunch of measurements and analysis. I think I looked at about 70 specimens of that, measuring all the teeth, and measuring the spiral and just the whole lot of numbers.
And we figured out that there were three distinct species, the [inaudible 00:03:20] we figured out how they grow thick and tail and the spiral teeth, how they change on to genetically as they age. And then from there, then the next step was to figure out how that whirl fit into the animal. That was the big question about shark for over 100 years and naturally the only way to do that was through CT technology. So we have our specimen, our collection that’s really well preserved, you can see the jaw material expressed on the surface of the rock.
So we took that to Austin Texas, set a CT scan and then I spent about four months processing that CT data. That was a manual process, there was one slice at a time, I would go through and hand paint the material Iike you see because the fossil itself is fossilized in a prosthetic conclusion, so there’s very little—didn’t see variation between the fossil itself and the rocks. So it was a manual process of painting that fossil, one slice at a time over four months to extract the data from the rock. Then once we did it, we figured out that the whirl occupies the entirety of the lower jaw. It is something that had been hypothesized back in the 60s, but was never confirmed up until that research.
Garret: Yeah, because there are some other versions of that skull where it kind of sticks out of the mouth too, right?
Jesse Pruitt: Yeah, the leading hypothesis up to that point was that it spiraled under the lower jaw so the teeth grew out of the mouth and just sort of hung out below it which is pretty inefficient for an animal that’s evolved to be very smooth and hydrodynamic in a way that prevents fish from being able not to detect it, so it really wouldn’t work out too well for an animal.
Garret: Could it close its mouth with that huge thing in there?
Jesse Pruitt: It could yeah. So the top of the mouth sort of looks like a hard shell taco, it’s got a nice big deep cavity that the whirl just slides right up into. And then there’s two different mechanisms in its jaw that prevents the teeth from coming into contact with the upper jaw. They also got a stripe that comes up and spots from the side, and watches it from the side, there’s also at the back of the jaw there’s a little process, it’s called the Pruitt process, because I found it.
Jesse Pruitt: That prevents the jaws from touching, there’s a process that comes up the upper jaw that abuts with the lower jaw that stops it.
Garret: Okay interesting. That’s one of the most interesting looking prehistoric animals I think.
Jesse Pruitt: Yeah it really captures the imagination, it’s really fun to—here at the museum we give kids a quick little rundown of the research we’ve done, then we’ll show them the spiral and we’ll have them reconstruct the animal as they think would have happened. It’s pretty fun to see what they will come up with.
Garret: Yeah that’s cool.
Sabrina: So you mentioned CT scans, what other kind of tools do you use for the Idaho Virtualization Lab?
Jesse Pruitt: The bulk of our work we do surface scanning, so we primarily rely on laser scanning technology. We’ve got a couple of articulated arm laser scanners; we have a terrestrial lighter unit that we use for mapping big sites for really big objects. We scan whales and stuff with the lighter unit. We have a couple of turntable base laser systems so if we got—just a lot of materials we need to crank there really fast, we can put the objects on a turntable and it’s kind of an automated process.
We do a bit of structured light, we’ve got our handrail structured lights scanner which shoots out a pulsating light with a grid pattern in it, and that has a couple of cameras and it detects other, the grid that forms over the surface. And then we do photogrammetry, we can process CT data and online data, we have our scanning electron microscope on campus, we use that to a degree or two for very, very small objects, and then hand modeling we do quite a bit of that too.
Sabrina: That’s a lot of things.
Jesse Pruitt: Yeah we try and really cover all the bases and make sure that we can provide any service that a researcher would need.
Sabrina: Is there kind of a process you follow for each specimen, or is it just kind of case-by-case depending on what you have and what you need?
Jesse Pruitt: The workflow is pretty much consistent across everything we do but it does—there is a bit of case by case, fossils vary quite a bit in their surface color and detail and texture. So if we have a fossil that’s really black like a lot of the material coming out of the Cleveland Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry in Utah is really black and the lasers are designed to not detect black, they are designed to pick up white, so we have to elevate our lasers to detect black which can be kind of problematic, like we’ve had over the years the people that make the technology have told us to just paint our objects white. We can’t very well paint a fossil, so we need to be able to detect black objects, and they don’t like that too much.
So it’s basically save, the basic workflow is, you scan the object and you scan it as many times as it takes to capture the entire surface and then you flip that object, you scan it again until you capture that surface, then inside the software you stick those two pieces together to create a full object and then create a full service 3Dmodel. That’s pretty consistent across all of the technology with the exception of CT process and the photogrammetry laser structure like lighter, all work consistently the same.
Garret: Do you do a lot of lighter like when they first discover a quarry or something or when do you use the lighter?
Jesse Pruitt: We get the lighter unit specifically to scan really big natural history objects like whales, [inaudible 00:08:56] and stuff like that. But since we have it, we do go out—I took it to Alaska three years ago I guess now. I was in there, [inaudible 00:09:05] for seven weeks doing my archeological work and we used the lighter to map an entire island, so I just walked around the island when the sun was out and it was a nice day and mapped that entire island with a lighter and then as we were digging I would go into an area, scan it before we dig and then every time we would open a new layer, I would take a new scan so that now we can digitally reconstruct that dig in three dimensions and peel away layer by layer.
And as we are recoding that the material we’re finding, we are subsequently laser scanned all that material, now we can take those 3D objects and place them stratigraphically back in their columns and you can pull it apart virtually. But we do a lot of terrestrial material, a lot of really big objects with it. We’ve scanned mountainsides that have petroglyphs on them.
We’ve done a little bit of that and then most recently, our lab manager just went out and digitized a series of caves here at the Craters of the Moon National Park here in Idaho for search and rescue operations. So if somebody gets lost in a cave, now we’ve got a 3D model of that cave that people can look where somebody might have potentially gotten stuck or something like that.
Garret: Interesting. That’s really cool.
Jesse Pruitt: It’s fun to see the data. I’m glad I wasn’t part of that, but our manager spent about a week on his belly crawling through these caves with a $80,000 3D scanner.
Garret: Did he get stuck at all?
Jesse Pruitt: He said there was a couple of times he got wedged pretty good but he never got stuck, fortunately.
Garret: I can see you’re trying to scan things in places where someone might get stuck, so that even though if they get stuck then you get stuck.
Jesse Pruitt: Yeah, I’m glad I wasn’t part of that project. I’m scared of tight spaces.
Sabrina: So it’s an ongoing project, right, the Research Quest with the Natural History Museum of Utah? Could you tell us a little bit about that?
Jesse Pruitt: Yeah that’s a really fun project. [inaudible 00:11:06] is the educational coordinator for the Museum, and she had an idea to get kids more involved in critical thinking at a younger age. So she came up with research quest, so I went down to the museum, I digitized a bunch of the dinosaur bones and now they’ve got these digital models that they go to a website and has built in measurement tools and comparison tools and you can compare one bone to another and things like that.
So now kids are given a series of bones and they’re doing measurements just like a paleontologist would, they’re measuring, linking them with, then you can measure volume and things like that inside the 3D models to build a small database of known specimens, and then they’re given mystery bones so they are given a bone that they don’t know what it is, there’s no information associated with it, so they take a series of measurements of that and then they try to figure out what that bone is based on how it compares to the known measurements they’ve done. And they’ve had some really great success teaching kids critical thinking skills doing that and it’s a fun way because they’re playing with dinosaur bones, they don’t really think about the math involved.
Sabrina: Definitely. So is this something kids have to go to the museum to do because it’s on an app, right?
Jesse Pruitt: No, they’ve built this service, so I think they’ve opened it up nationwide now but it was just in Utah but you can do it right from the school so you can integrate it directly into a lesson plan in school anywhere in the state, so teachers get a log in credential, they log in and then they can have their students log in on iPads, I think it’s set up so that they can do all these measurements there, but yeah pretty much anybody in the country can have access to that research tool.
Garret: That’s really cool.
Jesse Pruitt: Yeah it’s a really fun project, it’s great, and it’s really rewarding to see it positively affecting the kids and it’s dinosaurs, so they get to have fun with it.
Sabrina: Exactly. And we’ll be sure to post links to everything on our website too so our listeners can check it out. So how long has the Idaho Virtualization Lab been around?
Jesse Pruitt: 14 years this year, we’re almost 15 years. It was started back in 2002.
Sabrina: And about how many people work there?
Jesse Pruitt: Anywhere from eight to ten people at any given time working there.
Sabrina: Cool. What’s the most interesting thing that you’d say you’ve worked on?
Jesse Pruitt: The Tiktaalik Project was pretty important one for me. I felt like that was kind of a highlight of my career being able to digitize that iconic fossil, and being able to work with it so closely. But we do quite a bit of really fun stuff. We just recently held an Idaho County here on a cold case murder investigation that was pretty interesting. It’s not something we do very often, but they bought us a box of remains that we digitized and virtually reconstructed the skeleton, and we were working with the forensic anthropologist, so like bones on TV.
She looked at the bones the way we had them together and was able to determine that the guy had a back disorder and a hip disorder, so he would have walked with a limp and had kind of a hunch posture, so the sheriff’s department was actually able to ID those remains for the first time based on the description she gave from the bones that we were able to put back together from. So that was kind of a fun, but we do quite a bit of weird stuff.
Sabrina: Yeah a lot of variation there. When you first said murder mystery I was thinking like Cleveland Lloyd Quarry and how that’s described, but now you mean modern.
Jesse Pruitt: Yeah, modern. It wasn’t, we’ve done all our fossils there.
Sabrina: I just want to go back the Tiktaalik project, you scanned and modeled this entire collection of material that was collected in [inaudible 00:14:56], so how much can a 3D scan tell you about a fossil?
Jesse Pruitt: So one thing that we can do is, it’s all surface data so we don’t get any of the internal structures, so that’s the one big difference in CT scanning and laser scanning is that we only collect surface data which is good enough if you’re doing more of a metric analysis. You can do landmark analysis and stuff like that, but the scanners that we use in lab are capable of about—unfortunately about 16 micron resolution which is, that’s better than you can see with the naked eye service detail, so I can pick up if there’s a detail on a surface I can capture that.
So there’s—you’re not losing anything, they are 100% accurate to a scale. So once I’ve created the fossil, the measurements are going to be as accurate as you could do with the specimen in hand. So essentially what we create with these scans is we call it a digital segue, it’s 100% accurate to scale to detail representation of a real world object that can be researched and things like that.
Sabrina: Cool. So what happens between scanning and then putting it up on Sketchfab or your website?
Jesse Pruitt: That depends on the application of the person that’s requesting that digitization, but the basic process is you scan an object, so that generates a point cloud data similar to what you see on lighter, so it’s just a bunch of points so that has been surfaced, and you surface the model which turns it into what we call a, watertight or manifold 3D model. Then from there, it gets cleaned up a bit and inherently there’s going to be some surfaces that you can’t see, there’s going to be holes that just can’t quite get the laser into deep enough to capture the bottom of the things like that.
So it’s going to be a bit of clean up, you’re going to have to fill holes, or you have to clean up a little bit of the data. A lot of times fossils are prepared in such a way that they’re glued back together and stuff like that. So you end up with shiny surfaces or some of proxy this kind of translucent and it does some weird things with the laser that way, so you have to clean up a bit of noise on the scans so to put things online so that people can see them on their smartphone, a lot of these models for example the Tiktaalik roseae is a pretty small skull, it’s about the size, a little bit bigger than a softball, kind of loop sized object.
That thing was like 40 million polygons, so really dense heavy scan and you can’t load that on a smartphone, it just crashes the software. So we go through and we optimize those models for web viewing. So we go through and it’s called UVs, create UVs for an object and then we create a series of maps that allow you to put a low resolution model online, but it fakes the detail of having a really high resolution object. Sort of Hollywood and video game magic that people use in UVs and those fields, but trying to integrate those into what we do.
Garret: That’s cool. So that’s kind of like, what do they call those, a texture map, that you put on top of it that shows the little details that you don’t necessarily need all the polygons for?
Jesse Pruitt: It would be a sort of a normal map in a displacement map. Takes your map, we also do but that would be for color detail.
Garret: Okay cool. I don’t—I’ve never heard of a normal map before.
Jesse Pruitt: The normal maps here, if you look at them without being an object, there’re like the kind of look like a rainbow, like an oil slick on water, it’s a colored thing. It’s just a fake map that recreates shadows to give you a look at 3D on an object that doesn’t really have surface detail on it. So it’s basically a fake shadow map.
Garret: Cool. And have you worked on any other dinosaurs in the area?
Jesse Pruitt: We’ve done quite a bit. I’m working on a research project currently since you guys are on SVP you got to see it, the new ankylosaur out of Utah. I’m working on a research project that currently I can’t really go into a huge amount of detail about, but I digitized the entire skull in advance for a project that I’m currently working on.
Jesse Pruitt: Then there’s—Oh I think I’m up to almost 50 dinosaur models in Utah for the Research Quest Project, and then various other dinosaurs from around the area, and then scanned a T-rex from LA County skull, But [inaudible 00:19:27] for dinosaurs but there’s a weird volcanic state, so most of our dinosaurs are under 60, 70 feet of old lava.
Garret: Yeah we have the same problem in California. Most of the dinosaur fossils you’d find I think are up in mountains, they’re buried in trees and things too, dirt.
Sabrina: Since you’re also an artist and you have a portfolio on art station and a separate Facebook page, we didn’t talk about it but the Idaho Virtualization Lab also has a Facebook page for our listeners and we’ll link to all these so you can for yourselves, but as a paleo artist, what do you specialize in, what are your favorite things to create?
Jesse Pruitt: I’m trying to divert myself from getting heavily specialized; I try to do all in a way that’s as broad as possible. So I try and flex out a bit I guess that way. I really like marine animals, I’m kind of paleo geologist, I like the sharks, it’s my main research goal, but I really like these really weird marine craters. So I’m currently working on a Basilosaurus model. It’s a big whale from the Southeast United States.
Jesse Pruitt: I really like mixing the 3D with the art. It’s really nice being able to digitize the skull and then actually flex that out in a realistic way instead of just trying to figure out proportions as I’m going with the models and stuff like that.
Sabrina: So what’s your process for creating art?
Jesse Pruitt: My coworker calls it the bubble gum approach. So I use ZBrush [inaudible 00:21:11] a 3D package that’s really popular in Hollywood for creating organic 3D models and it works really well, it’s set up to be like a digital clay. So you have a bunch of tools so it’s just like a clay sculptor you would use except I get the [inaudible 00:21:27] use asymmetry tool so I can sculpt them on both sides at the same time than go back and do it later.
Jesse Pruitt: It’s basically this digital clay is I can go add on an extra clay where I need to build up a surface or I can curve into it, when you stick that away and then basically I just start with the sphere and just keep adding and stretching and pulling and carving and cutting until I get a 3D object. Then I’m working on a [inaudible 00:21:55] skull right now for the museum, creating one that we can use for various purposes. And I’m recording that process, I’ll be able to post that online to show people kind of how that comes together.
Sabrina: Awesome. Since we in a lot of these cases like we know maybe a little bit about the animal or maybe a lot, but we don’t know everything about the animal, so how much liberty do you take with your—like how much is interpretation and I guess almost guesswork and then how much do you usually, actually know?
Jesse Pruitt: This is a great question. Paleo, it’s kind of a weird thing, a lot of the times, a lot of the animals that you’re trying to reconstruct don’t really have modern analogs and if they do, they quite a few million years removed from the animal you’re working on. The best thing I can do is dig through the primary research and look at the descriptions that paleontologists had put together of these animals, then I just kind of fill in the missing pieces from what isn’t there. But primarily I work mostly off of actual publications and journals and the material where the stuff has been published and then try and keep it as scientifically based as possible without putting a whole lot of artistic license into it.
In the case of Basilosaurus, there’s quite a few of the relatives that guy that are pretty well described and we get some pretty good skulls, and full body fossils there, but we create an animal as realistically as possible. It’s kind of a tricky thing but we’ll never really know, but at least I have the benefits of most of the stuff I’m working on I’m still kind of has a modern analogue in the world we live in unlike the dinosaur where you don’t have a whole lot of T-rexers running around.
Garret: That’s true.
Jesse Pruitt: Tina and I don’t do a whole lot of controversial stuff because a whale is a whale and a shark is basically a shark, so I don’t have people yelling at me for putting feathers on things or any of that.
Garret: I can see how marine reptiles or even just other marine animals would be a little bit simpler possibly for art because they all tend to have similar colors and shading and they’re all very smoothed, so it doesn’t give you the temptation to add random ornamentation sticking up.
Jesse Pruitt: Yeah, it’s kind of hard to get into trouble doing stuff like that.
Sabrina: How long have you been working on your art?
Jesse Pruitt: About a couple years now I think. I started doing research but I find art a nice outlet for that, and then through the [inaudible 00:24:40] research I spent quite a bit of time working with Ray Troll is a pretty prominent paleo artist, and he’s going to beat me over the head for the four, five years that I’ve known him, that you need art to explain your science. You can give a publication to another paleontologist and they can look at graphs and charts and stuff like that and they will understand what you’re talking about. But if you’re going to engage the public in a discussion about animals of the past, they need to be able to see that, and they need to be able to see and understand what you’re talking about. So art becomes a bridge between science and our real world.
Jesse Pruitt: We really like to try and blend art and science which is something we do a lot with our Facebook page for the Idaho Virtualization Labs. A bone all by itself isn’t that appealing, but if you render it in such a way that it has some dramatic lighting and colors and stuff like that then it becomes more appealing for the public. That’s the goal, that’s ultimately we’re doing it for the public, so we want them to be able to enjoy the material as much as somebody would. It’s just going to measure it and break it down into a series of numbers.
Sabrina: Yeah and then art can also, it can shape the way that everybody sees as a certain type of animal, do you ever feel pressure in that way? Like you know, ok maybe it’s an animal that there’s not much that’s been made for it yet, and you know like this is going to be what people think of.
Jesse Pruitt: Yeah there’s definitely pressure involved there. In fact there is another shark that we’re currently researching, it’s called [inaudible 00:26:16] related to [inaudible 00:26:19] but instead of the spiral teeth it has a—basically it has, they call it the scissor tooth shark, because it has a pair of blades, it has a blade in a separate jaw and a blade in its lowered jaw, and they were kind of like a pair of shoes and basically just find the blades of teeth. They come out of the coal mines in Kentucky in Illinois, but there’s not very much known about them but luckily we got into the CT scan, the entire skull of one of those sharks.
But yeah if you get the reconstruction wrong, the public turns the lights on to an idea, and they point to that and hold on to it for a long time, so if you make a mistake the first go around, trying to correct that later down the road is problematic as people don’t want to let go of what they got at first. The circles I’m in, on Facebook as well as a paleo artist and I see it with the T-rex people really resist the idea of these guys having feathers.
They grew up seeing scale dinosaurs and that’s their dinosaur, people take it personally it seems that you’re trying to take away a piece of their childhood basically by recreating an animal that they grew up loving, and now you’ve got the whole theropod debate and people really like seeing teeth hanging out of the mouths of theropods. When you put lips on a T-rex people tend to get offended by that. There’s quite a bit of pressure to get it right the first time.
Garret: Yeah I think that’s one thing that could be really great about your interaction with kids, kind of helping them see how the recreation process goes, because it might take some of this emotional effect out of the public eye of what science is. I don’t like that version of science, that’s not the science that I knew, that’s not what science is, science always changes, get used to it.
Jesse Pruitt: That’s a great lesson to teach kids early on that science changes, it’s a fluid understanding of the world around us, so you have to be a little flexible in your ability to take in new information and change your thought process with it. Kids are great that way, it’s really rewarding working with kids, you can say a thing, change their mind inside of a half hour discussion, but as adults we get set in our ways and we don’t like to change very often. So you’ve got to get them while they’re young.
Garret: Yeah that’s true.
Garret: And I’m glad you mentioned critical thinking too because that is my favorite topic for discussion. Cool. So one more question about CT scanning versus these other ones, do you do CT scanning less often just because it’s so cumbersome, or is it because it’s harder to do something like a whale skull and there are so many things that are too large to get into a CT Scan?
Jesse Pruitt: A lot of it is exactly that, it’s a size restriction on it. In fact the [inaudible 00:29:16] fossil was just very small enough to fit inside the industrial CT machine at Austin, and it’s kind of a labor intensive process. If you just CT scan a skull that’s out of matrix, it’s not that bad, you can process it pretty well. But if you’re dealing with fossils that are inside rock, there’s a long time, it’s a manual process of extracting that fossil from the rock, so it really takes a long time to do that.
The bulk of what we do is digitizing collections so we push for volume, so we need to be able to produce a high volume of high resolution models in a cost effective manner. That’s where the laser scanners really come in handy is, you can crank through. In the past we’ve done tests and if we put our entire lab on test, we can generate about 300 3D models a week if we just crank on it, so we can digitize an entire collection pretty quick.
In fact the Tiktaalik collection for example had about 300 items in there, and I scanned that entire collection in about a week by myself, and then spent another month or two building the 3D models. But if you’re going to CT scan that entire thing, you’re looking at a couple of months of CT data collection and then another probably a year or so of creating 3D models based off of that. Then the public really doesn’t care so much about the internal data, they just want to get a pool of fossils. So you spend all that time and investment on a thing that somebody is going to see on Sketchfab and they’re going to spin it around a couple of times and then go play around on Farmville or whatever they are going to do.
Garret: That’s true.
Jesse Pruitt: So it’s balancing act, you’ve got try to find the balance between a research ready model and something that the public is going to be interested in seeing.
Sabrina: Great. So where is the best place for people to find out more about the Virtual Museum of Idaho?
Jesse Pruitt: Probably our Facebook page I would assume. We are pretty bad about social media. We forget about Twitter, we’ve got a Twitter account but we forget about it, so we tweet about once every six months or so we’ll do something there, but Facebook is something we seem to do quite a bit of. So most of our updates go there, then the Idaho Museum of Natural History has a website and that’s updated pretty regularly.
But we have the Virtual Museum of Idaho which I don’t think there’s anywhere to filter for new content, but we’re constantly adding new material to that. So there’s always stuff going, and then of course there’s Sketchfab, so we add content to Sketchfab, and then we integrate that into our virtual museum website. Sketchfab gives you kind of the update, you get to see it first and you get that notification and you know that we’ve added something new.
Sabrina: Cool. And is that just for our listeners to know if they go to Sketchfab, they can just search Virtual Museum of Idaho?
Jesse Pruitt: Idaho Virtualization Lab.
Sabrina: Idaho Virtualization Lab. Okay great and we’ll be posting all these links but just in case for people who might only be listening. All right so we have just one last question that we ask everybody, what is your favorite dinosaur?
Jesse Pruitt: I’m an ankloysaur guy, had to go with Ankylosaurus. I don’t think they get quite enough love in the paleo world.
Garret: That’s my favorite too.
Jesse Pruitt: Oh good, you’ll probably enjoy the research I’m going to be kicking up hopefully in the next few year or so.
Garret: I definitely will. I might have to try to 3D print it or something.
Sabrina: Well thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today.
Jesse Pruitt: Thanks for having me. This is a lot of fun.