Explore the Human Body on Your Computer Screen

That skeleton in your elementary science classroom may soon be obsolete

The Google Cow model, now part of the open-3d-viewer project
The Google Cow model, now part of the open-3d-viewer project Wikimedia Commons

The plastic skeletons and body models used in classrooms and doctors' offices may soon become obsolete, it seems, due to one of Google's latest offerings: Google Body. The program is still in beta (meaning it's got some bugs); this week its creators added a male body to the female they began with in December. And now users can tour the body, zooming in on various layers—circulatory system, muscles, bones, organs and so on—identifying parts, marking them, making notes.

The "body browser" works only with the most recent versions of Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome, but no special plug-ins are required. Instead, the product makes use of WebGL technology to produce the 3-D graphics. The creators say that Google Body works best in newer computers, but I had no problems with the site using Firefox 4.0 on my 5-year-old MacBook last night.

One thing I find fascinating about the project is how it came about: Google has a policy that allows company engineers to spend 20 percent of their time on personal projects, and Google Body came out of the 2o percent time of a group of Web developers in Google's Cambridge, Massachusetts office who were inspired by the area's strong medical community.

"We originally built Google Body as a demonstration," project manager Roni Zeigler told the New York Times News Service, "but we've discovered that it has tremendous potential for teaching and patient education."

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