The best way to learn anatomy is to look at real bones and real bodies – anyone who dissected a frog in high school knows that the tidy multi-colored diagrams found in textbooks rarely do justice to the real thing. But there are several problems: besides the ick factor, real bodies aren’t always easily accessible or affordable. 3D anatomical models have existed for some time but these, too, aren’t always affordable.
Luckily, several free sources of 3D models exist. Even better, recent research suggests that they help students learn about biological systems.
The free models are created using CAT and laser scanning technology, and are saved in PDF format, which makes them free and almost universally available to use. The models give both students and researchers access to bones and bodies they otherwise wouldn’t be able to study – including rare and fragile specimens.
The main downside to these free models is the time and effort it takes to create them. So far, numerous free models are available for a variety of animals, including birds and fossils – but most models include one or a few bones. Nonetheless, the free models that do exist could make a great – and cost effective – teaching resource.