3D models of insects above the actual insect specimen.

3D digital models were made from Insects of many shapes and sizes by a team at CSIRO.

This Sunday, 18 May 2014, is International Museum Day. To celebrate, we’re taking a look at the Australian National Biological Collections managed by CSIRO, which are being unlocked for digital access by community.

Making connections

‘Museum collections make connections’ – that’s the theme for International Museum Day 2014. Today, people are connecting to museum collections not just in person, but on laptops, smartphones and other devices.

“Museums represent historical collections that can’t be duplicated,” says John La Salle, Director of the Atlas of Living Australia at CSIRO. “They contain biodiversity knowledge that can’t be recollected.”

CSIRO maintains collections of plants, animals and other organisms on behalf of Australia. They are available to support research by scientists around the world. But for people in remote areas and overseas, visiting these collections can be expensive.

Going 3D

John was part of a team that recently created a way to make 3D models of insects in their natural colours using simple equipment. An insect is mounted on a printed mat, and the pin is glued to a magnet. The magnet holds the insect to a turntable, which can be rotated and tilted side to side. It is photographed at different angles, and the pictures are combined using software to create a detailed digital 3D model.

A 3D computer model is easier to share online and you can get an accurate picture of the whole specimen. “When you are trying to identify an insect, you want to be able to flip it around and look at it from different angles,” says John.

So far, the team has made 3D images of a handful of insect specimens to show the idea works. Now the question is how make 100 images, and then 1000. There’s plenty to digitise – with around 12 million specimens, the Australian National Insect Collection in Canberra is the world’s largest collection of Aussie insects.

Unlocking the insect collection to an online space opens up a huge range of uses, such as identifying plant pests. “You can see the advantage of making these pictures available on handheld devices for quarantine officials,” says John. “There’s a variety of uses for collections, some of which we can’t even imagine. That’s the exciting part, when people start using the collections in ways we hadn’t expected.”

Still, nothing beats seeing the real thing. So to celebrate International Museum Day, why not head to your local museum and check out what’s on display from the cool collections.

Share with us

What is the first collection you dash to when you arrive at a museum? For me, it’s straight to the dinosaur fossils!

More information

Watch a video of Chuong Nguyen creating a 3D model of the wheat weevil.

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