Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Point clouds and palaeontology: DigitalFossil 2012

Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin.
Sunday 23rd September saw the start of the first ever DigitalFossil 2012 conference hosted at the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin. The meeting brought together workers from across the world who are using digital techniques in their research and facilitated discussions and exchanges of ideas via talks and workshops. The venue itself was an inspiration of course, and frequent trips were taken to gaze at the Berlin Archaeopteryx, probably the most beautiful and iconic of all fossils; in real life it was more stunning and detailed than I ever imagined. The reception in the evening in the dinosaur hall got events underway was a good icebreaker as we gathered beneath the gaze of Giraffatitan brancai, sipping beer, nibbling nibbles, renewing old friendships and forging new ones.

The evening reception in the Museum's stunning dinosaur hall.
Brachiosaurid-induced cricked necks ensued.

There were plenty of highlights in the talks too, and it was soon apparent that this is a very exciting time for digital palaeontology and the pace of development of new technologies and techniques is making it a very interesting field to be working in at the present. There was lots on CT and micro-CT, some of it quite jaw-dropping due to the resolution being achieved, several talks about curating the data and disseminating the results of research via web sites and databases (including the brilliant Antweb). There was also discussions on subjects such as the need for a universal 3D file format to ease data sharing and curation (a debate that is vital), navigating through the Creative Commons labyrinth and retaining downstream flexibilty when gathering data using digital techniques.

There were a number of talks about the reconstruction of extinct organisms using digital data as the primary source and using digital techniques. Being a scientific illustrator myself this was of particular interest to me and I learnt a lot from all these talks and it's always fascinating to see how other artists work; here is the genesis of a new paradigm for the visual communication of research.

Blatant self-promotion interlude:
I present The Ichnologist's Guide to 3D models: from the field to the cloud.

I'm glad to say that photogrammetry was also discussed at length and the whole first session was given over to talks discussing various techniques and technical issues. I gave my first ever conference talk, which was about photogrammetry workflow and also co-presented a photogrammetry workshop in the afternoon with experts Neffra Matthews, Brent Breithaupt and Peter Falkingham; both went well and we received good feedback, and all the photogrammetry talks were fascinating.

The photogrammetry workshop recording data from the display of Chirotherium trackways.

There were various demonstrations throughout the three days of the meeting, including Lidar and various scanning technologies, although with the notable exception of Peter Falkingham's excellent discussion of the use of Kinect as a scanner all of these are out of the price-range of a self-funded researcher such as myself.

This brief review of DigitalFossil2012 does not do justice to either the work of the organisers or that of the presenters whose talks were so informative and thought-provoking. I highly recommend you check out the abstracts online to find out more about what was discussed. You know you've been to an excellent meeting if you come out with your head buzzing and plenty of ideas of how to incorporate these into your own research; my head is buzzing still.

Finally, a big thank you to Heinrich Mallison and his team at Museum für Naturkunde for their tireless work preparing and hosting the conference.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Stu! it was a great pleasure to finally meet you in person, and getting to know Mrs. Pond, too, made it even more fun. Please give her my regards. I am very glad you both liked Berlin.