FARO aids discoveries on the lives of dinosaurs

February 28, 2019

Remember your dino-themed birthday parties, hours playing with your T-Rex toy and debates with friends over how they really hunted?

Lars Schmitz, associate professor of biology at The Claremont Colleges, may have your childhood fantasy of a career studying the eye bones of the vertebrate fossil record, making serious discoveries about phylogenetics and morphology, including Velociraptor activity patterns.

Now, with the help of a FARO® Design ScanArm and Geomagic Wrap, Schmitz will be able to add an unparalleled level of accuracy to his arsenal, unobtainable by his previous manual measurement methods.

“The FARO Design ScanArm not only provides far more accurate data, this new device also unlocks many ways to observe and measure anatomy. We can now take many more landmarks, allowing us to describe the full complexity of shape, as to simple length measurements, and can generate volume and area estimates for the structures of interest.

Lars Schmitz, Associate Professor of Biology, The Claremont Colleges 

Unlocking Dinosaur Behaviors

For the dino-inclined, there’s an undeniable cool factor to Schmitz’ research. In 2011, Schmitz and Ryosuke Motani showed that velociraptors were most likely nocturnal hunters based on an analysis of scleral rings and orbital bones. They studied many other dinosaurs and pterosaurs, determining their diel activity based on these bones (i.e. whether they were active at night, during the day or at twilight), discovering a variety of daily patterns for these animals. These groundbreaking findings disproved the accepted hypothesis that dinosaurs were active at night while mammals were active during the day.1

His research on eye structures has added new knowledge to previous approaches in phylogenetics and morphology. For example, while researchers had been studying limbs in the exploration of how animals emerged from the water, the fact that eye size had increased by three times had been overlooked. Schmitz demonstrated how important the development of eye structures can be in evolution, showing that larger eyes enabled animals to clearly see items on land and underwater, thus placing the development of long-range vision in the evolutionary timeline.2

3D Laser Scanning for Research and Museums

FARO portable measurement arms allow for many academic research and museum applications, including:

  • Reproducing artwork
  • Precise measurements for research purposes
  • Digitally preserving historical items
  • Sharing museum assets in a 3D environment

The high portability, scanning features and ergonomics of the FARO Design ScanArm make it perfect for work in museums that may require moving the arm around delicate items that cannot be moved or touched. For example, the Smithsonian museums use FARO solutions.

The ScanArm isn't just for dinosaurs, it can also reveal what's been kept under wraps for more than a millennium. In addition to the prehistoric vertebrates in Schmitz’ research, other organizations around the globe have scanned ancient human remains.

The 1700-year-old Lady of Cao in Peru was scanned by the Wiese Foundation and El Brujo Archaeological Complex with the Design ScanArm to virtually reconstruct and 3D print her face. In Stockholm, Interactive Institute Swedish ICT used FARO technology to develop virtual autopsies of Egyptian mummies that allow museum visitors to explore the layers inside the sarcophagus with unprecedented realism.

High-Tech Skills for Students

With Schmitz, the Design ScanArm will benefit the entire community at The Claremont Colleges, which consists of five undergraduate colleges and two graduate institutions. "The new device will be shared among all members of the W.M. Keck Science Department and beyond. Our integrative department houses biologists, physicists, chemists and environmental scientists, all of which can use the scanner in a variety of different applications," Schmitz said. "Beyond the sciences, the art community at The Claremont Colleges has already expressed interest in using the Design ScanArm for some of their projects."

Undergraduate students will have dino-mite opportunities to use the ScanArm to assist with Schmitz’ research as part of Schmitz Lab.

“Students will be some of the main users of the Design ScanArm! My research students will be responsible for data collection and processing, empowering them with a highly transferable skill. We will also use the scanning technology in the classroom --- for example, I'm currently developing lab activities for my comparative anatomy course that incorporates laser scanning and 3D-model generation.

Lars Schmitz, Associate Professor of Biology, The Claremont Colleges 

The students will gain 3D laser scanning skills while employing a portable measurement arm that uses hard probing and laser scanning to capture reality in a 3D virtual environment. His lab students have gone on to win awards for the research they’ve conducted with Schmitz. Access to the FARO Design ScanArm will push their research to new heights, with skills in demand in fields such as:

  • Entertainment
  • Product design
  • Research
  • Archaeology
  • Museum curation
  • And more

1 Schmitz L, Motani R. 2011. Nocturnality in Dinosaurs Inferred from Scleral Ring and Orbit Morphology. Science 332: 705-708.

2 Maclver, MA, Schmitz L, Muganc U, Murphey TD, Mobley CD. 2017. Massive increase in visual range preceded the origin of terrestrial vertebrates. PNAS: E2375–E2384.

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