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Science By The Billboard
September 30, 2010

A “bait ball” of salema fish swirling off the Galapagos Islands, one of the world’s largest Adelie penguin colonies basking on an Antarctic beach and ancient petroglyphs in northern Saudi Arabia depicting hunters and their prey are three of the arresting scientific panoramas selected for a juried gallery show in conjunction with the Fine International Conference on Gigapixel Imagery for Science.

Each of the eight giant images selected for the show, which will be unveiled at Carnegie Museum of Natural History when the scientific conference begins in Pittsburgh Nov. 11, is a very high-resolution image created by combining tens or hundreds of individual digital photos. Combined, the eight images include almost 4 billion pixels, or enough to fill 10 billboards at standard resolution, said Illah Nourbakhsh, associate professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon University and general co-chair of the Fine Conference.

On a computer screen, these rich, high-resolution images can be explored interactively, but in the gallery show the images will be exhibited as prints 4 feet high and up to 17 feet wide. The prints will be on display to the public at the museum through the end of the year.

“Standing a couple of feet from one of these huge prints feels like being taken to another place — your field of view is covered by imagery as detailed as your eyes can possibly see,” said Randy Sargent, a scientist at Carnegie Mellon and the NASA Ames Research Center who is a general co-chair of the Fine Conference. “It was very difficult for the team to select among the submissions — these scientists have some very important and compelling places to take us.”

The conference, sponsored by the Fine Foundation of Pittsburgh and hosted by Carnegie Mellon Nov. 11-13, is the first scientific meeting exploring the use of new technologies for producing gigantic electronic images, such as the GigaPan camera system developed by Carnegie Mellon and NASA. These technologies are being used by scientists across such disciplines as primatology, archaeology and entomology to monitor and document field sites, to study and share artifacts and to educate students and the general public about science.

“GigaPan is an excellent tool for documenting ancient rock art,” said Sandra L. Olsen, curator of anthropology at Carnegie Museum of Natural History, whose petroglyph project is part of the gallery show. “Because it combines a large format with extremely high resolution, the archaeologist can build a database that is not only of great use in his or her analysis, but can also be transmitted to other scholars who do not have an opportunity to visit such remote sites themselves.”

Mark Bauman, executive vice president of National Geographic Television, will be a keynote speaker at the Nov. 11 conference event when the eight scientific images selected by a jury of scientists and artists will be unveiled. In addition to the print show at Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the images also can be explored at

“We're truly impressed with the variety of ways we see scientists use GigaPan, such as documenting an archaeological dig as it progresses, or putting an insect collection online for researchers everywhere to explore,” Sargent said. The eight juried images are:

“Eagle's Nest petroglyph, Jubbah, northern Saudi Arabia," is a GigaPan photo by Richard T. Bryant. It was produced for a project led by Olsen and paleontologist Chris Beard of Carnegie Museum of Natural History and Majeed Khan of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities in Saudi Arabia, and was made possible through the cooperation of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, with the support of the Layan Foundation.

“Galapagos Bait Ball of Salema,” by Jason Buchheim of Odyssey Expeditions, shows a large school of salema fish as they swirl into a giant bait ball to protect themselves from predators. A view from inside the bait ball also can be viewed here.
“The Big Four,” by Andrew R. Deans and Matthew A. Bertone of North Carolina State University, shows an insect specimen drawer with a sampling from the four largest insect orders, which collectively comprise more than 800,000 species.

“Bergamot and Hummingbirds, Vermont,” by Chris Fastie, a forest ecologist in Salisbury, Vt., combines a GigaPan of bergamot flowers with additional photographs of a male and female hummingbird gathering nectar.
“Barnacle,” by Molly Gibson of Sebastopol, Calif., is a GigaPan combining 384 scanning electron microscope images of a single barnacle.

“Penguins at Cape Crozier,” by Stephanie Jenouvrier of France’s National Center for Scientific Research, shows a large colony of Adelie penguins. The image includes penguins exhibiting various behaviors, such as porpoising and feeding chicks.

“From Sierra de en Medio,” by Rurik List of the Institute of Ecology at the National University of Mexico, shows an isolated mountain range within Mexico’s 1.3 million-acre Janos Biosphere Reserve.

“Unhealthy Honey Bee Frame,” by Dennis vanEngelsdorp and Michael Andree of Penn State University, is a GigaPan of a brood chamber that has been removed from an unhealthy beehive. The image can be used to teach beekeepers about disease identification and bee biology.

In addition to Bauman, keynote speakers at the conference include Alan Eustace, Google senior vice president for engineering, and Pete Worden, director of NASA Ames. For more information about the conference or to register, please visit the conference website.

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