“With fossils, you can’t always control what parts you get,” Smith says. Imagine finding an ancient orange. You might find the full fruit preserved, or only the peel, or all the segments without the peel, or a single segment, or just one seed, all in various states of disintegration. It would be easy to mistake any of those hypothetical fossils as different organisms altogether. But with the 3-D data that Smith gets from synchrotrons, she can mimic the process of fossilization by digitally stripping away layers like a fruit peel, a once-fleshy segment, or the coatings of a seed.

Read more: Seeing the Unseen, LSA Magazine, Spring 2016