Report from the Field, author Isabelle Trocheris

On the screen behind Dr. Michael J. Ackerman, the anatomical images of the toes of The Visible Human Male disappear ending a 3D visual trip through its body. The Visible Human Project® is an outgrowth of the National Library of Medicine (NLM)’s decision in 1986 to become a picture archive. Ackerman recently retired from his work of overseeing the NLM’s medical imaging program. In medicine, he says, knowledge comes not in words but in pictures.

The Visible Human Project® consists of the acquisition of transverse magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, X-ray computed tomography (CT) scans, and cryosection digital images of a male cadaver and a female cadaver. The Visible Human data sets are designed to serve as a reference for the study of human anatomy in 3D. The full male data set was completed in 1994 and is approximately 15 gigabytes. Collected with a finer resolution a year later, the female data set is approximately 40 gigabytes.

Besides medical students and doctors, the database is used by engineers like those who design prosthetics or dummies for safety trials, even by artists… It has 2,000 licensees in 48 countries who like Ackerman, surely believe that a picture is worth a thousand words.

The next Rockville Science Café will be at Branded ’72 on Tuesday, February 16, 2016.