Radiology’s Beauty on Display at American Museum of Natural History

June 24, 2011

"Picturing Science: Museum Scientists and Imaging Technologies," an exhibition of more than 20 sets of striking large-format prints, showcases advanced imaging technologies used by scientists at the American Museum of Natural History and reveals once-hidden, intricate details of both natural phenomena and cultural artifacts.

The beauty of the CT and the x-ray extend far beyond the diagnostic, a new exhibit opening Saturday, June 25 at theAmerican Museum of Natural History reminds us.

"Picturing Science: Museum Scientists and Imaging Technologies," an exhibition of more than 20 sets of striking large-format prints, showcases advanced imaging technologies used by scientists at the American Museum of Natural History and reveals once-hidden, intricate details of both natural phenomena and cultural artifacts.

Armadillo lizard with osteoderms
Edward Stanley, a doctoral candidate in the Comparative Biology Program of the Museum’s Richard Gilder Graduate School, uses CT scanning to view a lizard’s “osteoderms”-the bony plates of armor located in the animal’s skin. Stanley uses these features to map out the evolutionary relationships among species and investigate shifts in ecology within this morphologically diverse family of lizards.
©AMNH\E. Stanley

The exhibition, in the museum’s second-floor Akeley Gallery, explores how imaging technologies – including infrared photography, scanning electron microscopy, and computed tomography – make it possible to examine and analyze a range of specimens and phenomena at levels of detail previously unimaginable, advancing science and providing new insights into the visual splendor of the universe, museum officials say.

“When science and technology come together, the fruits are often beautiful and surprising, as this new exhibition so brilliantly demonstrates,” said Ellen V. Futter, the museum’s president.  “New imaging tools allow us to present anew the intersection of science and art – both vital lenses through which, separately and increasingly together, we can better understand the world around us.”

The images in Picturing Science were taken as part of current research at the Museum, including studies of evolving supernovas, long-buried ancient villages, microscopic hairs on wasp antennae, biological fluorescence, and more. The exhibition features the work of 27 Museum scientists, students, and staff from the Divisions of Anthropology, Invertebrate Zoology, Physical Sciences, Vertebrate Zoology, and Paleontology, as well as from the Richard Gilder Graduate School. The images were produced with a range of optical tools and equipment, many of which are housed in the Museum’s Microscopy and Imaging Facility (MIF), which provides Museum research staff with opportunities to use advanced imaging technology.

The museum’s CT scanner is a crown jewel. Acquired by the Museum in 2010 with a grant from the National Science foundation, the GE Phoneix V/tome/x Dual-Tube CT Scanner is one of only four of its kind in the country.

“There is a nexus of aesthetics and science that too often goes unstated by us scientists to the public,” added  Mark Siddall, curator of Picturing Science and curator in the Museum’s Division of Invertebrate Zoology. “This is a unique opportunity for researchers at the Museum to share their personal fascination with what they see in the course of their research.”

Picturing Science will be on view through June 24, 2012. 
 

Tibetan wood figure

Museum conservators Judith Levinson and Karl Knauer use x-rays to investigate the condition of artifacts, including Tibetan deity figures. In the case of the wooden figure, the x-ray revealed previous repairs and ritualistic objects, known as consecration items, placed within a cavity inside the body.
© AMNH\J. Levinson and K. Knauer

 

Eygptian blade seen through sheath

Alex de Voogt, assistant curator in the Museum’s Division of Anthropology, used computed tomography to digitally “remove” a sheath from an Egyptian knife collected in the 1930s. The leather portions of the sheath had shrunk, making the sheath too tight to remove, while lead strips made the sheath impenetrable by conventional x-rays.
© AMNH\A. De Voogt