An Army artist is making a difference at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory

November 10, 2015

By ARL Public Affairs

Story Highlights

  • Army artist uses CT scans to create a variety of 2-D and 3-D medical illustrations and animations, other graphic designs, data visualizations and 3-D models
  • Autumn Kulaga creates medical illustrations to clarify fracture patterns by only showing the bone and fractures that would be expected from under-body blast tests
  • ARL will use Kulaga's visualization products, such as storyboards and animation, to communicate the vision of how current research can work together in the future VRAMS system

Autumn Kulaga is a biomedical illustrator at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. She uses CT scans to create a variety of 2-D and 3-D medical illustrations and animations, other graphic designs, data visualizations and 3-D models. All of these are used to clearly and succinctly communicate and visualize the injuries sustained.

Depicting injuries is not always easy using injury photographs and medical imaging, such as computerized tomography, or CT, scans. Scans do not necessarily highlight the injury of interest and, as a result, include unnecessary information such as unaffected body tissue and non-related injuries. They also sometimes reveal personally identifying features. Also, customers served by the ARL Survivability/Lethality Analysis Directorate, known as ARL-SLAD, are often not experts in anatomy, and benefit from illustrations to understand and analyze the injury depicted. ARL develops custom medical art and illustrations to help analysts visualize, archive and communicate pertinent information about injuries.

"I have always gravitated towards art and science," Kulaga said. "To me these subjects are symbiotic, and therefore medical illustration seemed like a great path forward for my career. Not only does this let me use my creative talents on a daily basis, but I am constantly learning new material as I become involved in different projects."

Kulaga began working for ARL in 2007 as an intern. Her first big project was the Visual Anatomical Injury Descriptor, known as visualAID. She worked with team members to create an interactive web-based application that associates anatomical images to the Abbreviated Injury Scaleā€”an anatomical scoring system that captures a ranking of injury type and severity. The tool allows the analysts to compare multiple cases while protecting Soldiers' anonymity.

Currently, Kulaga is creating medical illustrations for three programs that ARL-SLAD is involved in: the Warrior Injury Assessment Manikin, or WIAMan, Joint Trauma Analysis Protection of Injuries in Combat, and Joint Live-Fire Behind-Helmet Blunt Trauma. For WIAMan, Kulaga creates medical illustrations to clarify fracture patterns by only showing the bone and fractures that would be expected from under-body blast tests.

Kulaga's injury illustrations depict injury patterns that occur commonly on the battlefield. These illustrations allow analysts to compare multiple injury-outcome scenarios without requiring photos that might not only violate patient privacy, but might also provide so much detail as to be confusing.

Kulaga also creates medical illustrations that depict skeletal injuries seen during BHBT both for documentation and presentations. They are also used to quickly characterize and compare injuries from different tests. She records the fracture patterns from the various tests on a template illustration to allow for a quick visual comparison. Kulaga has received feedback that her illustrations make the analysis much more easily understood.

"Not only does medical illustration visually communicate, it serves as means to archive research throughout ARL," Kulaga said. "Each illustration becomes its own story for that specific experiment, holding more detail and information than text alone can convey."

Kulaga also applies her skills in graphic design and illustration on two other non-medical projects. For the ARL Vehicle Technology Directorate program called the Virtual Risk-informed Agile Maneuver Sustainment, or VRAMS, Kulaga is creating a 3-D rendering of a future concept environment for Army aviation that will allow for self-inspection, self-repair, and damage-based maneuvers that will result in substantially reducing costs of operation and sustainment. ARL will use Kulaga's visualization products, such as storyboards and animation, to communicate the vision of how current research can work together in the future VRAMS system.

Another non-medical project she supports is the U.S. Army Program Executive Office Soldier initiative called blast mitigation. Kulaga has created illustrations to show the experiment set-up for each blast event, as well as diagrams that depict the different materiel blocks.

"It is clear from the breadth of application and customer response to her work, that she is helping ARL to better communicate its analysis across the Army," said Stephanie Snead, branch chief of SLAD's Warfighter Survivability Branch.


The U.S. Army Research Laboratory is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to ensure decisive overmatch for unified land operations to empower the Army, the joint warfighter and our nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.

 

Last Update / Reviewed: November 10, 2015