Medical texts can be incredibly dry, not to mention difficult to understand. But if there’s something wrong with your body (or with someone near and dear to you), you may want to find out more about the condition. Or perhaps you’re reading a text about fitness and it mentions some muscles by name. For those kind of uses, nothing beats a visual map of the human body.
Remember Google Body Browser? This used to be a very cool Google Labs project that let you view a 3D human body picture and learn about it. Well, it’s gone now, such is the way of some Labs projects. The company behind it, Zygote, says that that it will release it as a full product. But that doesn’t mean you have to wait, because BioDigital Human is available right now, for free, and it’s incredibly comprehensive and fun to use.
The Main View
The main view shows pretty much what you would expect: A detailed 3D rendering of the human body.
On the left is a tool pane that lets you zoom in on specific parts of the body; on the right there’s a list of common conditions, and at the bottom there’s a view toolbar. These are three powerful controls, so we’ll be looking at each in turn.
Finding The Parts You Want To Learn About
Let’s say you’re reading an article about body building, and it mentions something called brachioradialis. That sounds like a condition, but it’s a body part. So just start typing it into the Search box:
Instantly you get several results (live search is very fast). Just hover over each of the results, and the visual display instantly zooms in on the part of the skeleton you’re searching for. Once you see the part you’re looking for, click it, and it will remain in focus:
Learning About A Body Part
Now that you’ve zoomed in on the part of the body you want to learn about, the top-right frame displays information about it, as well as common conditions related to that part:
Clicking on a condition brings up even more information, along with a source citation:
I think this is brilliant, because it lets you instantly learn about conditions related to parts of the body. So if someone complains about a body part that aches, you can just zoom in on that part of the body and look up common conditions that have to do with it.
So far we’ve only looked at the skeleton, and a single muscle. You can filter the display according to numerous layers:
As you can see above, each layer lets you drill in and display only very specific parts. So you can turn off the skeletal system and switch on just specific parts from other systems, to get a “floating” display of specific body organs.
Above is a part of the human lung, for example. Of course, this being a 3D model, you can easily rotate it around and look at it from all possible angles.
The Bottom Toolbar
The bottom toolbar lets you rotate, pan and zoom using the mouse, but it also packs several other tricks. You can use it to switch between the male and female versions of the model (this isn’t an instant switch – it takes a moment to load), toggle labels on or off, take snapshots, and switch views.
Here’s an example of the views using the same body part. First is the Standard View, which looks like this:
Next is X-Ray view:
This is fairly self-explanatory; and last but now least is the isolated view, which you’ve seen before (it shows you just the currently selected part).
The last feature I’d like to mention is the Dissect tool. It basically lets you make parts of the model disappear by clicking them. So if you’re trying to zoom in on a specific area but have too much in the way, you can selectively hide the parts that you don’t want to see, while leaving everything else in place for added context.
BioDigital Human is also available as a Chrome add-on. As far as I could see, there are no major differences between the Web-only version and the add-on. Whether you’re an aspiring medical student or simply a curious individual, BioDigital Human is an invaluable utility, and beautifully executed. A fantastic service, especially considering the price (free!).