HEAD Lab

The Human Evolution and Development (HEAD) Lab at Vassar College specializes in virtual methods for the study bones and fossils. The HEAD Lab contributes to Biological Anthropology courses, as well as original research projects. Some of the tech and projects from the lab are described here.

Virtual Anthropology methods allow the study of anatomy and morphology using digitized data, such as from 3D surface scanning, computed tomography (CT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The HEAD lab has five workstations for analyzing these data using software including Avizo, Amira, Geomagic DesignX, and Artec Studio. Research projects and class assignments in the HEAD lab use these virtual methods to study both original and open-source datasets, addressing questions about the biology of humans, our fossil forebears, and primate cousins.

3D surface scanning digitizes anatomical data quickly and at high resolution. The HEAD lab has an Artec Spider® scanner, with a resolution of up to 0.1 mm, perfect for capturing the overall shape and fine details of medium-sized objects. In the classroom, the 3D surface scanner comes in handy for a lab assignment examining the 3.6 million year old human footprints from Laetoli, Tanzania. Outside the classroom, 3D scanning has been vital to lab projects about human evolution.

3D printing brings digital research and teaching materials to life. Our Zortrax M200® 3D printer has filled the HEAD lab with bones and fossils, from my own research and from open-access repositories such as Morphosource.org. In the classroom, 3D prints provide students with access to rare fossils, and help them grasp the gross anatomy, fine features, and overall size of the material discussed in class. In the lab, 3D printing can aid in reconstructing fossils and making anatomical comparisons.

Student research is a priority in the HEAD Lab. The intensive course ANTH 211 (Virtual Anthropology) is based out of the lab and teaches some of the digital methods for studying morphology. More advanced students have done independent study projects in the lab, and in the Summer the lab has facilitated both URSI and Ford projects.