A Modern Approach to Paleontology

Evelyn Vollmer works on piecing together a digital sculpture of a skeleton the virtualization lab is reconstructing.

This year during Idaho Gives Day, one organization raised enough money to allow high school students to become paleontologists at no cost. This week, those students worked their fingers to the bone but it's not a typical approach to paleontology.

During the summer at Idaho Museum of Natural History, students become teachers.

Idaho Virtualization Laboratory intern Evelyn Vollmer says, "Seeing kids really excited about that really reignites it in me, like, why I love this so much."

Vollmer is one of a handful of interns who loves paleontology and during the digital sculpting studio program this summer, she helps six high school students turn 2-D drawings of bones into digital sculptures.

Idaho Virtualization Laboratory Manager Jesse Pruitt says, "We're teaching them how to take two-dimensional objects, photographs of fossil material, and we're teaching them how to turn that into a 3-D object like we have on the screen back here. So we're using a program called ZBrush and we're using reference images of actual fossil material and they're sculpting the bones, one bone at a time, until we can get the complete skeleton assembled."

As the students and interns progress towards completing the skeleton, the bones are 3-D printed. Eventually, the project the students are working on will actually become a real exhibit at the Idaho Museum of Natural History.

For many of the students involved, their work is really about combining different passions.

Vollmer says, "So when I was growing up I always really loved art and I had always been told, 'You're not going to make money with art, that's not something you can do.' This is a fantastic way that you can merge art with science and I think that's super important that, like, kids can see that this is a career path that really is viable."

Programs like the digital sculpting studio at ISU are making an impact. With limited access to fossils, museums and schools that normally wouldn't be able to display these skeletons are now able to produce accurate replicas at low costs for their exhibits.

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