A Bridge Between Innovation and Our Ancient Human Relatives

A Bridge Between Innovation and Our Ancient Human Relatives
October 07, 2019
“The world of CT scanning and the world of visual effects and animation have many similarities, but there’s not a bridge between the two. By building a bridge, it will enable Lockheed Martin to provide the data to help tell stories of nature and science based on what we’ve learned by telling engineering stories.”
Luke Olson, Lockheed Martin Interactive Media

The Lockheed Martin Talk Techy To Me team interviewed Luke Olson, a Lockheed Martin engineer, and Becca Peixotto, archaeologist and Director of the Center for the Exploration of the Human Journey with the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, to learn more about this project.

Every once in awhile an aerospace and defense company gets an opportunity to stretch outside of its comfort zone. This comfort zone just happens to date back 2 million years.

Dr. Lee Berger, a paleoanthropologist, and his son discovered an ancient humanoid skeleton known as Australopithecus sediba, named “Karabo,” in South Africa in 2008 that dates back to two million years ago. The fossils found make an almost-complete skeleton, which has provided the scientific community a plethora of new data and findings from ancient human relatives.

To showcase these fossils and findings, along with those of ancient human relative Homo naledi, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, in Dallas, Texas, is hosting an exhibit Oct. 19, 2019 – March 22, 2020, in partnership with Wits University, the official keeper of the fossils.

Just a few miles outside of Dallas, Texas is a Lockheed Martin facility in Grand Prairie, Texas. At this facility, the team works with a micro-CT scanner for many of the government programs, but this scanner could prove to be an incredible addition to Dr. Berger’s findings of Karabo. 

Due to decomposition, a part of the sediba fossil is encased in extremely compact rock, leaving the inside of the fossil a mystery. The teams from the Perot Museum and Wits University worked with Lockheed Martin engineers to use this micro-CT scanner to provide new data of what’s inside this cemented block.

This incredible partnership featured some of the brightest minds in science, and the Lockheed Martin team is excited to be a part of future technology advances in archeology and scientific investigations.

The Lockheed Martin engineering team is a group with diverse talents and jobs.
Let’s learn about a few of them…

Keith Hickman works with this micro-CT scanner every day. As a quality engineer, his job specializes in Non-Destructive Testing (NDT). NDT is used to inspect hardware, both non-production and production, without harming any of the parts. It essentially makes sure flaws are detected prior to performance, which saves the customer and company time and funding.

This same CT-scanner was used to help identify what’s inside the sediba fossil. Keith and the team used 3-D computed tomography, which is accomplished by compiling thousands of x-rays and reconstructing them into precise 3-D data. This data can be used to slice through the part instead of using cross sections, which allows the viewer to see more of what’s inside.

This scanner has a current high power of an industrial X-ray source (450Kv), and its combined with a high-resolution digital detector (139 micron), which brings together a unique combination of being able to penetrate thick and dense parts as well deliver high resolution – exactly what’s needed to see through the fossil sediment. 

Fossil Practice Scan

The fossil was placed on a stand in front of the CT-scanner, in hopes to help the scientific team understand what’s parts of Karabo remain fossilized in the rock.

Luke Olson’s work history is a tale that has you begging for more information on how he got to where he is today, which is an interactive media staffer for Lockheed Martin’s engineering visualization department.

As a student at Texas A&M University-Commerce, Luke was interested in animations created by using physics. He taught himself how to use software for simulating liquids, which was a rare talent that studios vied for. Luke has worked on many films, one of which he created blood and water simulations for gruesome movie scenes.

On the less gruesome side, prior to joining Lockheed Martin, Luke was assigned a project to gather information and create a visualization on a rare insect specimen without destroying it. Little did he know but the many things he learned on this project would come to play a role at Lockheed Martin.

Luke started with Lockheed Martin in 2017, and as a member of the Engineering Visualization Environment (EVE) team, he mainly produces engineering visualizations in the form of a video. However, the team also has the capability to utilize 3-D printing, projection mapping and game engines.

,Fossil Practice Scan

The team hopes to use data from the scans to help determine what bones are fossilized inside the rock, as well create 3-D printed bones for future research. (Photo by Lockheed Martin)

So why does an aerospace and defense company need these capabilities?

The visualizations can be used to convey complex ideas in a very concise and easily comprehendible way compared to other methods. Visualizations have unique benefits for a company with international customers, because a photo can transcend language barriers.

The EVE teams’ work ranges from 3D graphics like simulations and renders. Other times work involves the infrastructure, render farm, and development of software tools, creating a good balance of creative and technical work.

The world of CT scanning and the world of visual effects and animation have many similarities but there’s not a bridge between the two, so that’s where Luke and the EVE teams comes in.

Luke’s role in the fossil scan is to interpret the scan data, provided by Keith, so it can be used to create visualizations, and perhaps other things like 3-D prints of the fossils. By building a bridge between the scan and visual effects, it will enable EVE to use the data to help tell the stories of nature and science.