The Role of Radiology in Paleontology

Dinosaurs, one of Earth’s greatest creatures, has intrigued people for generations. Unfortunately, the only public places left to see remnants of those extinct creatures are museums. Most people have probably seen the skeleton of a brontosaurus or compared themselves to the T-rex’s footprint before, but have you ever wondered what goes into taking a fossil and displaying it for the public to see?

Radiology plays a huge role in paleontology. From the research of ancient fossils to preparing an exhibition for a museum, radiology is involved every step of the way.

How Radiology Helps Identify Fossils

Due to the fragile nature of fossils, most are paced in plaster casts in order to protect them from any future damage. How can researchers get information from a fossil when it’s covered in plaster? Removing the fossil from the cast runs the risk of damaging the fossil. If only there was a way to enable researchers to see through the plaster.

This is where radiology come in. CT scans can be used to separate the fossil from the plaster cast and produce a 3D print of the bone. The scan allows researchers to see the structure of the fossil in an unintrusive manner. Take the WitmerLab, for example. Through CT scans, researchers can analyze how the dinosaurs acted based on their biological structure and create 3D models through the cross-section slices of skulls.

How CT Scans and 3D Printing Replicate Fossils

Using CT scans and 3D printing, researchers can replicate the fossil precisely and accurately to show the public. When fossils are broken or missing parts, CT scans can fill in the gaps and produce a model that is whole. Most skeletons shown in museums are created with this method.

This enables researchers and institutes to keep the delicate fossils safe while still showing the history of these extinct creatures. Before 3D models, museums and institutions would need to have the originals to share with the public, but with 3D printing, institutions can share digital models of fossils and keep the original fossil safe.

Radiology in Recent Paleontology Discoveries

Researchers, scientists, and paleontologists are discovering new things about dinosaurs due to radiology and imaging. For instance, paleontologists from Southern Methodist University discovered that the Elasmosaurid plesiosaurs, the largest long-necked plesiosaur, didn’t evolve much during the 22 million years they were alive during the Cretaceous time. The team, who were also a part of the international Projecto PaleoAngola, used CT scans to see that the jaws and teeth of the elosmosaurids have remained remarkably similar throughout the years.

Think the T-rex is the biggest and the baddest of the dinosaurs? CT scans recently revealed that T-rexes had a complex nerve system in their jaw, which suggests that these ferocious dinosaurs had the ability to carry their offspring safely in their jaws and tear the flesh of their prey.

The Impact of Radiology on History

With new technological advances, radiology shows researchers more of the past than before. Just recently, historians were able to decipher secret letters from Marie Antoinette and Axel von Fersen. Radiology offers insights into things the human eye cannot see on its own.

As technology advances. So does our understanding of history. Staying updated with new radiology advances can be difficult, but Advanced Health Education Center is dedicated to bringing you information about new concepts, such as AI, in our classes. Sign up for our webinars and receive CE while you learn about the new updates!


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