MCC Life Science Professor Spends Summer Scanning Fish Skeletons for Online Repository

MESA, Arizona -- Oct. 3, 2017 -- Scanning 33,000 species of fish for an online digital library can take some time. This summer, Mesa Community College life science professor Alex Cheroske traveled to Friday Harbor Laboratories on an island about 60 miles north of Seattle to assist University of Washington professor Adam Summers in his quest to complete computerized tomography (CT) scans of all known species of fish. The 3-D images will be available online as a unique Open Educational Resource (OER) to foster questions about how fish are structured and how they work.

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For Cheroske, it was an opportunity to learn the technique of CT scans and create detailed x-ray images of the fish collection at MCC Red Mountain that will be added to the repository and used in his marine biology classes. He scanned approximately 70 percent of the MCC deep-sea fish collection and the remaining 30 percent were completed by Summers after his departure.

Cheroske said performing research is academically invigorating.

“It highlights the importance of the type of work that gives rise to the knowledge we share as educators,” Cheroske said. “In my marine biology class for instance, we discuss the adaptations of different organisms to their specific habitats in the ocean. The deep sea fish that I scanned have remarkable adaptations, some of which are visible to the naked eye but others that are unknown can be discovered using technology, in this case, the CT scanner. The biology that the students read in the text and that we discuss in class, is built upon the research of others and it is a continuous process. There is always more to discover and learn. As scientists, we never assume to know it all and doing this kind of work reminds me of that fact.”

Summers said his work is in the realm of what’s called biomimetics, which uses concepts from nature to create new materials, devices and systems. The project is expected to take about three years and involves scanning multiple fish at the same time.

"I love the idea of getting all this stuff up on the web for anyone to access for any purpose," Summers said in an interview with National Public Radio. "To allow the general public and every scientist out there to just download these data is fabulous."

Cheroske said the project enabled him to not only learn different perspectives on how best to create quality scans but also other aspects of biology and uses for the CT scanner. He will add the data from this research to his deep-sea fish lab so students will be able to view the images and write up their impressions on how these species are adapted to live in the deep sea.

Cheroske will also present a seminar to New Frontiers, a seniors’ group, on how advances in technology have shaped our knowledge of the ocean.

Cheroske said despite the challenges and unforeseen factors of time-sensitive field research at a remote sight, the work was very valuable.

“Part of the learning and benefit from this type of work occurs is in the process, not just the end result,” Cheroske said.

The data will be uploaded to an online repository at MorphoSource ( over the next few months and will include metadata to make the information fully searchable by anyone.

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Contact Dawn Zimmer, (480) 461-7892,

Mesa Community College is nationally recognized for service-learning, career and technical programs, civic engagement and innovative approaches to education. The college serves as a resource for career readiness, transfer education, workforce development and lifelong learning. Host to 30,000 students annually, MCC offers more than 195 degree and certificate programs at its two campuses and additional locations. MCC is an emerging Hispanic Serving Institution with a diverse student body that enriches the learning experience. Award-winning faculty are dedicated to student success, providing the education and training that empowers MCC students to compete locally and globally. MCC, located in the East Valley of Phoenix, Arizona, is one of the 10 colleges that comprise the Maricopa County Community College District. For additional information, visit

Mesa Community College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) of the North Central Association (NCA)

The Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD) is an EEO/AA institution and an equal opportunity employer of protected veterans, and individuals with disabilities.

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Publication Date: 
Tuesday, October 3, 2017