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Old 07-08-10, 01:00 PM   #1
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Post GPUs Help Render Images of 2.1 Billion-Year-Old Fossils

NVIDIA technology played a role in a remarkable discovery about ancient fossils and the origins of multicellular life. Going back 2.1 billion years in the fossil record, researchers concluded that 1-centimeter long structures found in Gabon are the remains of multicellular life forms. Now, this is a big deal in paleobiology because previously no one had ever seen multicellular fossils this old that were big enough to be seen by the naked eye. The Gabon fossils are more than 200 million years older than what was previously on record, and they come a billion and a half years before multicellular organisms really take off in the period known as the Cambrian explosion. Their existence helps paleobiologists discover more about the conditions of early life.

So how did NVIDIA help establish this new link in evolutionary history? The scientists used a technique called microtomography-based imaging to analyze the fossils. Microtomography uses X-rays to take multiple cross sections of an object ' the same idea as regular tomography used in medical imaging, except on a much smaller scale. To reconstruct the images from individual X-ray slices is incredibly computationally intensive work ' and that's where GPUs come in. Etudes Recherches Matériaux, based in Poitiers, France, completed the reconstruction and rendering using an NVIDIA Quadro FX 5600 and a Tesla C870 and Digisens DigiCT software, this software is dedicated to electron tomography for Biology and Materials Sciences: alignment, reconstruction, visualisation and universal data export for quantitative analysis. Digisens is a Emerging Company from the region of Annecy in France. You can see videos of the work they did at this link (in French).

To learn more about the Gabon fossils, pick up the July issue of Nature (it's the cover story). Or learn more about GPUs and tomography here in the nTersect archives.

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