Paper No. 105-12
Presentation Time: 10:45 AM
MORPHOSOURCE: A VIRTUAL MUSEUM AND ARCHIVE FOR RESEARCHER-GENERATED 3D DATA ON MUSEUM SPECIMENS
Advancement of understanding in paleontology and biology has always been hindered by difficulty in accessing the comparative data housed by repository institutions. Digitizing and serving online catalogs of those collections is the first step in breaking down barriers to scientific progress. Accordingly, bioinformatics initiatives have been strongly focused on this goal. However, most biological research questions require high fidelity phenotypic data on the specimens they include. This means that accessing a catalog record of a specimen does not usually lead to high impact research without time consuming and costly travel to repository institutions. With current and burgeoning technology, the potential for eliminating this geographic impediment to research can now be realized by creating an online virtual museum from which 3D renderings of specimens (based on CT, microCT, laser scanning, structured light scanning, or photogrammetry) can be downloaded and studied. Nonetheless questions remain about how to accomplish the digitization of vast collections and how to fund such an initiative. MorphoSource represents an example of a virtual museum that allows users to upload and download high fidelity 3D datasets from any repository. The potential rewards of successfully crowd-sourcing the digitization of museum collections are great. Crowd-sourcing from the research community should ensure rapid availability of the most important datasets. There are however challenges, including those relating to long term governance (maintaining site functionality, supporting large amounts of digital storage, and monitoring/updating file formats to prevent bitrot and software rot), and those relating to utilization by the community (detecting and minimizing user error in creating data records, incentivizing data sharing by researchers and repositories alike, and protecting stakeholder rights to data, while maximizing accessibility and discoverability). MorphoSource serves as a proof-of-concept of how many of these challenges might be met. As a result, it is increasingly used and endorsed by major American repositories as an appropriate solution for hosting researcher-generated 3D data. Its existence has begun to transform data transparency standards in comparative biology and paleontology.