The Visible Embryo began in 1993 as an attempt to use the newly developing world wide web to teach developmental biology. Source material for teaching embryology was scarce at that time. Yet embryology was fast becomming an exciting field breaking down the barriers to, at that time, infertility.
Specialists and educators needed teaching tools to get across the concepts of how an embryo evolves from a single cell into a baby.
The National Institute of Child and Human Development had made their collection of 10,000 human embryos available for study to medical and scientific communities. Part of that collection is the Carnegie Collection of Human Development.
The Carnegie Collection consists of 650 serial microscopic cross-sections of human embryos, and is located in the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) in Washington, D.C. It is an invaluable source of material for teaching normal growth as well as the origins of some developmental disorders.
Three dimensional reconstructions were made from these slides using in order to view the development of internal organ systems was and is a primary focus for the collection.
However, in 1994, only a few select computers could display in 3D. The process of reconstructing existing embryo slides into accurate embryo models would also require developing a sophisticated program needing years to perfect.
Teaching the concepts of early development required another approach. Two Small Business Innovative Research grants (SBIR) were awarded by The National Institute of Child and Human Development to Ms. Carmen Arbona to instructionally design and organize the study of early embryology using the Carnegie Collection. The September 1993 release of MOSAIC, the first graphical internet browser for the World Wide Web (developed at the The National Center for Supercomputing Applications), guaranteed interactivity between art and text. Now the potential of the net as a new communiction medium could begin .
The Visible Embryo immediately became connected to scientific and medical facilities and is now linked to over 600 educational sites. Over 93,000 page views per week, with more than 13,500 unique viewers per day, adds up to more than 4 million page views and 630,000 unique visitors visiting the site in 2007. Public interest in embryology inspired by pregnancy, regenerative and stem cell research, and anomalies of birth draw people to the Visible Embryo. Anyone curious about life and how we develop.