From 'The Water's Edge To The Cutting Edge': Fish Skeletons, CT Scans And Engineering : All Tech Considered Professor Adam Summers is a "fish guy." He uses fish to get engineering ideas. His latest project is to CT scan every type of fish — all 33,000 of them.
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From 'The Water's Edge To The Cutting Edge': Fish Skeletons, CT Scans And Engineering

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From 'The Water's Edge To The Cutting Edge': Fish Skeletons, CT Scans And Engineering


So now it's time for a fish tale - no pun intended. Have you ever asked yourself, how can a fish as soft as a stingray crush hardshell prey? You say you haven't. Well, this guy has.

ADAM SUMMERS: I've always been a fish guy. It's just been in my blood since I was as small as I can remember.

MARTIN: Adam Summers is a biologist with the University of Washington, and he's not underwater here. We just reached him on Skype. Summers is a biomechanist, which means he spends his days trying to figure out how fish...

SUMMERS: Are doing the things they're doing by trying to understand their skeletons and their muscles.

MARTIN: He's so good at it that he was a top adviser on the hit movies "Finding Nemo" and "Finding Dory."


ELLEN DEGENERES: (As Dory) Wait, wait, wait, no. I know where my parents are. They're in - what's it called? - the place - soap and lotion?

TY BURRELL: (As Bailey) Open ocean.

DEGENERES: (As Dory) Open ocean.

ED O'NEILL: (As Hank) Open ocean? I know where that is.

MARTIN: Now, understanding how fish work used to mean gutting a lot of dead fish. But one day he had a better idea. How about the CT scans that hospitals used to take internal pictures of humans?

SUMMERS: The only question is how am I going to find someone willing to take a big, dead fish and CT scan it? And I walked into a couple of local hospitals and said, look, this is what I want to do.

MARTIN: To which they said, yeah, right.

SUMMERS: Eventually, I found a imaging firm that said, why don't you come back in the evening when there's no people here, and we'll see what we can do? So I came back in the evening with my specimen carefully wrapped in several garbage bags, promised that it wouldn't leak and got my first introduction to medical CT scan technology.

MARTIN: And he was hooked. He even resorted to a bit of bribery.

SUMMERS: I would go with my pockets full of Snickers bars to a particular scan tech who worked at night and didn't mind if I showed up with a damp bag full of sting rays.

MARTIN: His colleagues loved the scans, and he began saying he wanted to scan everything in the sea.

SUMMERS: Well, I was kind of joking because if you do the math, there's 33,000 species of fish. That's a lot of fish to scan one at a time pretty much no matter how long it takes to scan.

MARTIN: At that rate, the idea of scanning every fish...

SUMMERS: Was looking bad, like, you know, 25, 30 years of scanning.

MARTIN: But, recently, Summers convinced several foundations to donate scanners to the project. And now he packs multiple fish on each scan, developments which have made the once impossible dream of digitizing every species in the ocean something actually achievable. By his estimates, the whole thing should take about three years. So if and when you have an inexplicable urge to learn something about fish, well, you know where to go.


SAMUEL E. WRIGHT: (As Sebastian, singing) Under the sea, under the sea. Darling, it's better, down where it's wetter. Take it from me. Up on the shore they work all day, out in the sun they slave away. While we devoting full time to floating under the sea.

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