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Panning for Science

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Science  05 Nov 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6005, pp. 748-749
DOI: 10.1126/science.330.6005.748

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Scientists are using a powerful tool for teaching and public engagement with science and the natural world for projects as diverse as analyzing Middle Eastern petroglyphs, monitoring an urban forest, archiving a museum insect collection, studying a collapsed honey bee colony, keeping tabs on glaciers, examining erosion in a jaguar reserve, and viewing Galápagos fish clustered into a bait ball. Users of the GigaPan system punch numbers into a keypad on a robotic mount for a digital camera, specifying how expansive they want their panorama to be. A microprocessor calculates the size and number of exposures needed for the pan and moves the camera accordingly. A small robotic finger pushes the shutter button for each exposure. These are stitched together to form a panorama with a resolution 1000 times that of HDTV. The largest GigaPan has 100 gigapixels. The final image contains more data than most personal computers can handle, so the system's developers created a massive server system and Web site for storing and accessing GigaPans. When viewers zoom in on an area of an image, they seem to fly into the image itself. The result is an immersive, interactive experience that can reveal surprising details––an ant on a leaf in a forest, or a hummingbird sipping nectar from a flower in a backyard. It's like viewing nature through a huge magnifying glass.

* Karen A. Frenkel is a science writer in New York City.

  • * Karen A. Frenkel is a science writer in New York City.

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