Biologist Alexander Kroupa and a team of 14 colleagues are working with the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin on a huge undertaking. They are making high-resolution images of the museum’s insect collection of freely available to the public.
That collection consists of 35,000+ drawers containing ~15 million individual specimens that need to be selected, scanned, and uploaded into an online database accessible anywhere and free of charge.
The process is precise, prolonged, and painstaking. The museum’s specimens are archetypes for the world’s species and must be handled with the utmost care. One wrong move, one snapped leg, one torn wing segment, and the team has done irreparable damage to what may be an irreplaceable specimen.
But caring for the specimens isn’t what really makes the process so involved. The Zoosphere project is designed to provide enough visual information that even professional researchers can rely entirely on the digital collection for their research purposes rather than having to see the specimens in person.
To accomplish this requires an extreme level of detail. Between 3,000-5,000 images are taken of each specimen; providing 100 unique angles of detailed perspective. The image sequences are then formatted for online use and uploaded to the project’s freely accessible page: Zoosphere.net.
Though still in its very early stages, the preliminary results are impressive and I encourage you to have a look.
Beyond the obvious triumph for advocates of open-access scientific information, it’s easy to see how having such detailed imagery available on-demand is a boon for amateurs and professionals worldwide. Species information which has been, for the most part, extremely difficult to access will now be readily available in ways it has never been before. That will have profound consequences.
For example, the portion of a researcher’s grant money that would be spent on costly travel expenses to institutions for the purpose of inspecting specimens can now be applied to other parts of their project. Amateur naturalists can handily consult the collection for their own purposes and reference. Primary and secondary school students and teachers can use the imagery in their school projects. Engineers can examine insect structures for purposes related to projects in robotics, cybernetics, etc. Artists and architects can consult the collection for their creative purposes.
The possibilities for beneficial use are widespread and I sincerely hope the project continues. To keep up to date with the project, you can follow @Zoosphere on Twitter.