Forskere fra DTU Fysik og DTU Compute har i marts 2021 hjulpet Statens Naturhistoriske Museum i København med 3D-scanning af et 66 millioner år gammelt Tyrannosaurus rex-kranie, kaldet Casper. Scanningen er sket på 3D Imaging Center, 3DIM, i Lyngby i regi af det danske projekt DaSSCo, hvor Danmarks naturhistoriske museer sammen med DTU og med penge fra Uddannelses- og Forskningsministeriet skal opbygge en national platform for digitalisering af naturhistoriske samlinger. Foto: 3DIM

DTU 3D scans dinosaur skull

Friday 23 Apr 21


Carsten Gundlach
Senior Executive Research Officer
DTU Physics
+45 22 38 42 41


Anders Bjorholm Dahl
Professor, Head of Section
DTU Compute
+45 45 25 39 07

About the digitization project

  • DaSSco - Danish System of Scientific Collections - is part of the pan-European DiSSco - Distributed System of Scientific Collections, which has about 120 institutions in 21 countries.
  • The goal is to make the more than 1.5 billion objects in all European science collections digitally accessible in open databases.
  • With a grant of almost DKK 30 million from the Ministry of Higher Education and Science’s found for research infrastructure, the large collections at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, the Natural History Museum Aarhus, and the Science Museums at Aarhus University will now be digitized.
  • DTU will help with technical method development for scanning the museum copies.

Watch the video: 3D scan of the right lower jaw on T. rex Caspers. Note: The video opens in a new browser in YouTube.

Link til 3D-video med Casper

About Casper

  • Tyrannosaurus rex is called the king of dinosaurs. The species lived for 2.4 million years until the end of the Cretaceous where the Earth was hit by a meteor and several volcanic eruptions that eclipsed the entire globe. The fossil scanned at DTU is 66-68 million years old.
  • The skull measures approximately 50 cm and originates from a 6-7-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex. It has been found near the town of Casper in Wyoming in the USA, preserved in a paleontological workshop in Canada and is now in the exhibition King of Dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, on loan from a Danish collector.
  • There are only 40 Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons in the world, of which only six are so-called juveniles (young animals) under 14 years of age. Casper is a relatively complete skull with about 60 percent original material, making it one of the most complete skulls found in the world.

DTU Compute and DTU Physics will develop new methods to (mass) digitize natural heritage animals and insects, so that museum objects are accessible to all, and at the same time, digital copies are preserved.

In all secrecy, a 66 million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex skull has been a trip through DTU in Lyngby this spring. Here, researchers from DTU's 3D Imaging Center, 3DIM, have assisted the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen with 3D scanning and data processing of images of the terrestrial remains of the dinosaur skull called Casper. The fossil has been surface-scanned and CT-scanned and is now in the dinosaur exhibition at the museum while the 3D images are being processed.

“With the dinosaur scan, we create a connection between the technical research and the natural history research at the museums, and we show the breadth of the possibilities of using 3D image analyzes. Digitization can both provide new knowledge about natural history objects and make it possible to exhibit things that are normally hidden away,” says Anders Bjorholm Dahl, Professor at DTU Compute and Section Leader for Visual Computing.

The scan took place as part of the Danish project DaSSco, where Denmark's natural history museums together with DTU and with money from the Ministry of Higher Education and Science will build a national platform for digitization of natural history collections.

The next step for DTU will be to start developing methods for faster scanning and mass digitization, for example of insects.

Machine learning to help

"With the dinosaur scan, we create a connection between the technical research and the natural history research at the museums, and we show the breadth of the possibilities of using 3D image analyzes. "
Anders Bjorholm Dahl, Professor at DTU Compute and Section Leader for Visual Computing.

Normally, when Anders Bjorholm Dahl, Senior Research Engineer Carsten Gundlach from DTU Physics and their colleagues work with digital models of, among other things, polar bear skulls, they create geometric representations based on images in shades of grey.

The 3D images make it possible to measure morphological characteristics, so it is possible easily to compare and see, for example if there is a difference in the size of skulls before and after industrialization began.

The recordings of the images in the special micro-CT scanners take up to 24 hours depending on what you are scanning. Researchers want to speed up these processes through automation and the development of new technology.

“Machine learning makes it possible to measure things we have not done before. At the same time, the scan becomes faster. Today, it takes four hours to scan a polar bear skull, but with the help of research in 3DIM, we expect to be able to develop a system where the scan takes as little as 10 minutes, and still maintain a high level of detail in the images that we have today. To take advantage of that speed, we need a robot to feed the scanners around the clock. At the same time, the amount of data sets will increase, and here machine learning is an important tool for being able to analyze the larger amount of data,” Carsten Gundlach says.

Data collected at the speed of light

DTU also wants to show how, with the help of the synchrotron MAX IV in Lund in Sweden, you can mass digitize the natural heritage so it goes faster.

In the annular particle accelerator, electrons are accelerated up to almost the speed of light as they travel around guided by magnetic fields and deflected by the ring, forming X-rays. Using the X-rays, one can examine the structure of materials down to the atomic level, and the X-rays are many billions of times more powerful than equipment in hospitals.

"On the other hand, we can only investigate very small things. It fits very well with many of the over 10 million insects that are found at the Natural History Museum of Denmark,” says Anders Bjorholm Dahl.

3D Imaging Center is already working with Aarhus University to build the DanMAX test line on MAX IV; a so-called beamline, where the equipment is adapted to specific types of samples, and where robotic arms place the samples in special holders. The beamline should be ready by the end of 2021, and it is planned that, among other things, experiments will be carried out with mass digitization of insects from Denmark.

New opportunities for the museum

The digitization of the natural heritage in the DaSSco project is primarily about being able to share and disseminate knowledge through an open database.

However, digitalization also contains other exciting perspectives for the museums' collections, explains Peter C. Kjærgaard, professor and director of the Natural History Museum of Denmark:

“Digitization gives us completely new opportunities to ask and answer questions that we previously could only dream of. With approximately 14 million objects, we have Denmark's largest museum collection by far. It ranges from meteorites older than the solar system itself to animals and plants from all of Earth's history. We have both completely unique objects and long time series that make it possible to study important events in life's history and the effects of climate change over time. It requires super-specialized techniques that can handle everything from microscopic insects to giant whales. With the collaboration between DTU Compute and the Statens Naturhistoriske Museum, we have one of the strongest constellations that can set a new agenda for digitizing the world's natural heritage.”

The coming months' work with the automation of the scans at DTU, as well as the mass digitization using the synchrotron, will serve as preliminary projects to show that the technology and methods will be able to facilitate the digitization. Next, DTU Compute and DTU Physics will seek support for two major digitization projects together with the Natural History Museum of Denmark.

Watch the video below: DTU 3D scans dinosaur skull. NOTE: The video will open in a new browser at YouTube.

Look at the YouTube video with photos from the 3D scanning at 3DIM

About the 3D scan of Casper

  • DTU Physics and DTU Compute have over five days in March 2021 scanned the fossil of Casper.
  • Both a surface scan (optical scan) of the skull's exterior with light and camera as well as a CT scan in micrometre resolution have been performed, which in addition to the surface scan depicts the skull's internal structure. The two scans have subsequently been put together so that you have both colour and texture on the digital 3D scanning model.
  • DTU uses mathematical models to convert CT measurements into 3D models, convert the optical scans into 3D images and process the 3D images (data) for information.
  • DTU Physical and DTU Compute collaborate with the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen on both surface scanning and scanning in micro-CT scanning in the laboratories at DTU in Lyngby, where the 3D Imaging Center (3DIM) is located.
  • 3DIM - 3D Imaging Center - is a collaboration between DTU Mechanics, DTU Wind Energy, DTU Energy, DTU Physics and DTU Compute.
  • 3DIM works with neutron and X-ray radiation. The centre is part of DTU's strategic structure in relation to the use of the research facilities MAX IV and ESS - The European Spallation Source - in Lund in Sweden, as well as the DTU-based national research facility DANFIX in Lyngby with laboratories equipped with CT scanners. The regional centre for analysis of 3D images QIM is also part of 3DIM. Learn more in the article: The technique behind 3D scanning of dinosaur skulls

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