October 8, 2012 — Vol. 28 No. 35
The Virtual Museum of Idaho - that eventually will allow anyone with online access to examine 2-D and 3-D displays of Idaho State University Idaho Museum of Natural History collections - has received a big boost from a $600,000 grant from the Hitz Foundation.
"We are ecstatic," said Herbert Maschner, director of the Idaho Museum of Natural History. "The generosity of the Hitz Foundation will allow us to continue our efforts to create displays for the Virtual Museum of Idaho."
During the last five years the IMNH has received considerable attention because of the widespread success of the $1.3 million Virtual Zooarchaeology of the Arctic Project funded by National Science Foundation. This "transformative" project, according to Maschner, has created a new computer database structure and pioneered a number of new 3-D imaging techniques to put nearly every bone from nearly 200 arctic animals online. These new 3-D and 2-D images of these animals in a searchable database are available for the analysis by researchers from a variety of scientific disciplines.
The goal of the Idaho Virtual Museum is to use the same revolutionary technology to bring the collections of the IMNH to the public and educational groups.
"The Hitz Foundation believes your plans for the Virtual Museum of Idaho and your vision for democratizing science through virtualization is transformative," said Kenneth Hitz, President of the Hitz Foundation, which is based in Pal Alto, Calif.
Many of the images in the Idaho Virtual Museum will not just be ordinary images for viewing: they will be images of such resolution and integrity that measurements can be replicated to .01 millimeters on the screen. Visitors to the Idaho Virtual Museum will be able to virtually pick up a museum artifact and examine it from top to bottom, turning it over and examining it from any angle they wish.
"The fundamental goal of the Idaho Virtual Museum is to democratize science by giving all students, scientists and the public access to often proprietary museum collections," Maschner said.
The IMNH will begin the Idaho Virtual Museum with some of its most spectacular collections. These include the IMNH's Helicoprian sharks, ice-aged bison (scientific name Bison latifrons), mammoth remains from northern Idaho's Tolo Lake, artifacts from Wasden site on the Snake River Plain which is one of the oldest archeological sites in Idaho, Native American beadwork and plants from the herbarium.
"Once we get a few of the more spectacular collections online, we believe that the virtual repository concept will become the standard for museum presentations," Maschner said.