Students in a Northwestern University fall 2017 course “Materials Science and Socioeconomics of Portrait Mummies from Ancient Fayum,” taught by Professor Marc Walton and Taco Terpstra used Computed Tomography (CT) scan data to investigate and understand the material composition and significance of a nineteen-hundred- year-old mummy. This project was a collaboration between Northwestern’s Block Museum of Art, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, and Feinberg School of Medicine. Pursuing parallel independent studies, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science senior Kyle Engelmann and PhD candidate Nathan Matsuda, mentored by Professor Oliver Cossairt used the data collected from the scan to develop a ground-breaking interactive augmented reality (AR) visualization.
Engelmann converted the segmented CT data to a polygon surface representation suitable for real-time display, then developed a rendering model emulating X-ray images. This model, combined with Apple’s visual and inertial odometry tools (ARKit), provides visitors with a hands-on digital window into the internal structure of the mummy. To our knowledge, we are the first museum in the country to make use of this new open source tool. The result is a mobile application that can be downloaded to an Apple smartphone or tablet. Viewers are able to use the device to “scan” the mummy in real time and in motion, walking around the mummy display case to see on their devices various internal details revealed by the CT scan. The app allows a “layered” view: each layer can be turned on or off for a more complete or more focused view. The layers include views of the skeleton and objects placed within the mummy at the time of embalmment or after its excavation, including a possible amulet that was further analyzed using the Advanced Photon Source (APS) at Argonne National Laboratories as part our preparatory research for the exhibition.