Nearly 25,000 species of fish live in the world, and a University of Washington biology professor wants to scan and digitize a sample of each one.
Last fall, Adam Summers installed a small high-tech “computed tomography,” or CT, scanner at the university’s marine lab in Washington state and launched his ambitious project.
The idea is for each species to have a high-resolution, 3-D visual replica online, available to all and downloadable for free. “Scientists, teachers, students and amateur ichthyologists will be able to look at the fine details of a smoothhead sculpin’s skeleton, or 3-D print an exact replica of an Arctic alligatorfish,” the university explained in a news release.
So far, Summers has scanned 500 species, and has invited other scientists to use the CT scanner or add their own scans to the open-access database.
Image by Adam Summers, depicts skeleton of scalyhead sculpin fish. 1 of 10 FASEB science art winners. pic.twitter.com/vlBM33bkCi
— Jenny Martin AC (@Jenny_STEM) December 21, 2014
“We have folks coming from all over the world to use this machine,” said Summers, who advised Pixar on how fish move for its hit animated films “Finding Nemo” and “Finding Dory.” In the closing credits for “Nemo,” he’s dubbed “fabulous fish guy.”
In November 2015, he raised $340,000 to buy the CT scanner, which takes X-ray images from various angles and combines them to create three-dimensional images of the fish.
With each scan he posted to the Open Science Framework, a sharing website, people would ask him, “What are you going to scan next?” He would respond: “I want to scan them all. I want to scan all fish.”
Summers has been fascinated with how researchers are using the scans. Some are making computer graphics models and animating the fish. Another group colorized the skulls to highlight the individual bones.
“The reason this can happen is it’s free and open access,” Summers said.