oUTCT is partnering with the oVert (openVertebrate) project to make nearly 9 terabytes of existing high-resolution X-ray computed tomographic (HRXCT) data publicly accessible, and train the next generation of students in best practices for these data. The University of Texas High-Resolution X-ray CT Facility (UTCT) was established in 1997 to make HRXCT – a direct descendant of medical CT – available to researchers in the natural sciences. Since then, scientists from around the world have brought their most important and precious natural history specimens to UTCT to image and measure their interior features nondestructively. This application of HRXCT technology has been tremendously successful, resulting in the proliferation of scanners at institutions across the country. But UTCT datasets, acquired in part via dozens of NSF grants and cited more than 18,000 times in academic publications, remain in high demand due to their broad scope, high data quality, and historical significance. This demand has been fueled in part by the public-facing Digital Library of Morphology (DigiMorph.org), an NSF-funded project online since 2002 and housed at UTCT, which serves HRXCT-derived animations for more than 1,000 biological and paleontological specimens. In the oUTCT project, UTCT and DigiMorph are partnering with oVert and iDigBio (both at the University of Florida) and the MorphoSource data repository (Duke University) to make this unparalleled collection of HRXCT datasets more readily discoverable and more easily repurposed. oUTCT will also provide training to the oVert community, which spans nearly 20 universities and academic institutions, to maximize the scientific impact of that project.
Over the course of two years, oUTCT is uploading HRXCT data of nearly 1,500 fossil and extant vertebrate species scanned for 90 UTCT clients to MorphoSource, where they can be easily discovered and downloaded by everyone from scientists to artists to K-12 educators. This mobilization is being accomplished by undergraduate students employed at UTCT, who are learning the basics of HRXCT data acquisition and visualization as well as elementary bioinformatics associated with iDigBio, DigiMorph, and MorphoSource. In addition to this educational outreach, UTCT will host two short courses per year, cosponsored by oVert and iDigBio, to train students and scientists associated with oVert and MorphoSource in the fundamentals of HRXCT data acquisition, visualization, analysis, and long-term management. These activities will expand the impact of the original oVert project and maximize the return on NSF’s investment in it, UTCT, DigiMorph, iDigBio, and MorphoSource.