MorphoSource is a publicly accessible 3D data repository where subject experts, educators, and the general public can find, view, interact with, and download 3D and 2D media representing physical objects important to the world’s natural history, cultural heritage, and scientific collections. Media data are contributed by a community that includes museums, institutions, researchers, scholars, and other subject experts who use MorphoSource to archive data, share findings, and increase scholarly impact. Contributed media represent both biological objects such as fossils and representatives of living species, as well as artifacts and objects created by humans that are critical to our shared cultural heritage. Data users can find media through searching and browsing, and can interact with media directly in the browser through preview tools that support viewing, inspecting, and measuring 3D models, volumetric CT/MRI scans, 2D images, and videos. Data are commonly viewed or downloaded for research or education purposes, but there are many other possible usage examples, such as using data as inspiration for art or for 3D printing replicas of anatomical elements. Institutions or individual data contributors determine how and for what purposes their media may be used.
MorphoSource is also used by institutions and individual data contributors as a resource for full-featured data curation and standardized yet flexible documentation of the complex workflows typically needed for 3D images. Detailed metadata, strong discovery tools, and powerful documentation make curated data more easily findable, interpretable, and usable. There is strong technical support for 3D media types and file formats, including 3D models with texture and color, computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) volumetric data image stacks, photogrammetry raw image series, serial section imagery, and others. The repository also supports 2D images and video (see full list). Extensive metadata profiles are provided for both media and physical objects. Further, explicit hierarchical connections can be documented and tracked to connect the sequence of media produced in a workflow, leading from raw parent media to derivative child media. Bringing these components together allows curation, documentation, and communication of the often complex imaging and processing workflows that produce 3D and/or 2D data (see data vocabulary).
Finally, MorphoSource is increasingly used by institutions to aggregate, archive and manage digital representations of their collections’ physical objects. Currently, over half of MorphoSource media are managed by official teams representing museum staff and curators. The number of management teams is growing. MorphoSource encourages increasing engagement and participation from museums as key partners for addressing the long term preservation of its rapidly growing trove of representational data.
How is MorphoSource Supported?
Development and operation of MorphoSource has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, major commitments from Duke University, and smaller commitments from other university partners. MorphoSource was originally developed and launched in 2013 with a commitment from the Duke University Trinity College of Arts and Sciences. Since then, two major NSF grants, as well as additional commitments from Duke, have supported the development and operation of MorphoSource as it currently exists. NSF grants include NSF ABI 1661386, which concluded in 2021 with the launch of the second iteration of the MorphoSource repository, and NSF DBI 2149257, which was awarded in 2022 and will support MorphoSource’s continued operation until 2027. After 2028, MorphoSource will still seek grants and other kinds of finite commitments, but will begin a noticeable shift towards a community-supported model. To help with that transition, MorphoSource was awarded NSF DBI 2311380 in 2023. The ultimate and necessary goal is to eventually become a fully independent community-supported and serving resource.