Virtual and augmented reality: New tools for visualizing, analyzing, and communicating complex morphology

J Morphol. 2021 Dec;282(12):1785-1800. doi: 10.1002/jmor.21421. Epub 2021 Nov 2.


Virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) are new technologies with the power to revolutionize the study of morphology. Modern imaging approaches such as computed tomography, laser scanning, and photogrammetry have opened up a new digital world, enabling researchers to share and analyze morphological data electronically and in great detail. Because this digital data exists on a computer screen, however, it can remain difficult to understand and unintuitive to interact with. VR/AR technologies bridge the analog-to-digital divide by presenting 3D data to users in a very similar way to how they would interact with actual anatomy, while also providing a more immersive experience and greater possibilities for exploration. This manuscript describes VR/AR hardware, software, and techniques, and is designed to give practicing morphologists and educators a primer on using these technologies in their research, pedagogy, and communication to a wide variety of audiences. We also include a series of case studies from the presentations and workshop given at the 2019 International Congress of Vertebrate Morphology, and suggest best practices for the use of VR/AR in comparative morphology.

Keywords: anatomy; collections; comparative; education; visualization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Augmented Reality*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Virtual Reality*