MorphoTools: an application framework for interactive morphometric analysis

This research project focuses on the development and implementation of MorphoTools, a computer application framework for the interactive morphometric analysis of 3-dimensional biomedical object data. Currently, a diversity of morphometric methods is available to investigate form variation in organismic structures. However, it is often difficult for researchers to specify which method is best used to test a given biological hypothesis and how multivariate morphometric results shall be computationally analyzed and visualized in a comprehensive manner. There is therefore a need for interactivity and flexibility in the choice of computer-based methods for morphometric analysis and visualization.

The principal aim of this project is to develop dedicated, platform-independent computation and visualization tools, which help users in the biosciences devise and perform interactive morphometric analyses of 3-dimensional organismic structures exhibiting a complex and variable topology, such as the human skull and other skeletal and soft tissue parts. Users are enabled to specify their hypotheses in terms of one or more morphometric models, sample the adequate data and perform the corresponding morphometric analyses. The results can then be visualized using various rendering paradigms, which permit quantitative comparisons between the outcomes of alternative analyses. Combining and uniting these tasks within an adaptive application framework will promote an iterative approach to the process of hypothesis-building, analysis and interpretation of morphometric data. The design of MorphoTools as an open framework shall be based on principles of sustainability, re-usability, extendibility and portability, thus complying with the comparatively large time range of bioscientific research projects (~10 years). This lays the basis for the seamless incorporation of future developments in morphometric analysis and scientific visualization. The implementation of this application framework is an important prerequisite for pioneering research in the biosciences, notably in the area of computer-assisted paleoanthropology and medical diagnosis, where advanced computing and visualization tools already greatly facilitate the investigation of form change over individual and evolutionary time scales.