British Researcher Gets Big CAT Scan at Aerospace

Neil Ives, left, explains a scanned tiger bone image to Dr. John Hutchinson of the Royal Veterinary College. (Photo: Eric Hamburg)

A British academic researcher turned to Aerospace’s Electronics and Photonics Laboratory recently for computerized tomography (CT) scans of fossilized big-cat skeletons recovered at the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles.

Dr. John Hutchinson, professor of evolutionary biomechanics at the Royal Veterinary College in London, arranged to bring skeletons of two Smilodons (saber-tooth cat) and one atrox (American lion) to Aerospace for the scans.

Based on carbon-14 dating done at UC Irvine, the fossils are around 37,000 years old. Bone maturity, or the fusion of certain bones, show that the specimens were adults. In life, the species were about the size of a Siberian tiger. Hutchinson’s research straddles the fields of evolutionary biology and biomechanics, with an emphasis on how large animals stand and move and how their locomotion evolved over time. The work that brought him to Aerospace involves comparing ancient large cats to modern-day big cats.

The Aerospace CT scanner was used to make full 3-D representations of the bones so that they can be examined by researchers and shared with both the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. These scans will allow researchers to study the internal and external shape of the bone and bone thickness.

—Davina Rose Meyers