Evolution: Education and Outreach

, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp 635–641

Virtual Fossils: a New Resource for Science Communication in Paleontology


    • School of Earth SciencesUniversity of Bristol
  • Keith Adcock
    • Jewellery Industry Innovation CentreBirmingham City University
  • Russell J. Garwood
    • Schools of Materials and Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental SciencesUniversity of Manchester
Curriculum and Education Article

DOI: 10.1007/s12052-012-0458-2

Cite this article as:
Rahman, I.A., Adcock, K. & Garwood, R.J. Evo Edu Outreach (2012) 5: 635. doi:10.1007/s12052-012-0458-2


Computer-aided 3-D reconstruction of fossils, or virtual paleontology, is an increasingly common and powerful technique. It is now regularly used for research in paleontology, yet to date has impacted little on public outreach and science communication; however, it is ideally suited for these purposes, being increasingly cheap and available, dynamic and exciting, and applicable to a range of topics. Here, we provide an introduction to the field, and a case study of its use for a public engagement event. The steps involved in creating such an educational resource are outlined, and include computed tomography scanning, digital visualization, and 3-D printing of fossils. We emphasize the value of virtual fossils for science communication; they allow for diverse learning styles in a variety of topics. In the future, we hope that virtual paleontology will become a mainstay of communicating the history of life, thereby promoting accurate understanding of evolution.


PaleontologyPublic engagementVirtual fossilsComputed tomography3-D printingVAXML

Supplementary material

12052_2012_458_MOESM1_ESM.zip (9.4 mb)
Online Resource 1Animation of the computer reconstruction of the trigonotarbid arachnid Eophyrynus prestvicii. To view: unzip the .zip file and double-click the unpacked .avi file. (ZIP 9,658 kb)
12052_2012_458_MOESM2_ESM.zip (126.8 mb)
Online Resource 2Computer reconstructions of the fossils incorporated in the virtual paleontology resource described herein. Reconstructions are in VAXML format, compressed in a zip archive. To view: unzip the .zip file, install the SPIERS software suite (program and documentation available from www.spiers-software.org) and double-click the unpacked .vaxml files. (ZIP 129,841 kb)
12052_2012_458_MOESM3_ESM.zip (82.8 mb)
Online Resource 3Video explaining the virtual paleontology approach outlined in this article. The video was shown during the exhibit of the resource at the Lapworth Museum of Geology, University of Birmingham, UK. To view: unzip the .zip file and double-click the unpacked .avi file. (ZIP 84,747 kb)

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012