Smithsonian using 3D scanning to archive collection


The Smithsonian has a collection of approximately 137 million items but only limited space to display them all, so the institute is turning to 3D printing and 3D scanning to make its massive collection more widely available.

A new effort under way at the world's largest museum and research institution could eventually mean more of its 137 million objects will be publicly available, even if just via 3D digital models. The plan is to create a digital archive of the many objects housed by the museum, which could then be printed and put on display in exhibits at schools, museums, or elsewhere — currently only two percent of its collection is available for the public to see.

The museum is touting the 3D printed replica of a Thomas Jefferson statue that it recently installed for the "Slavery at Jefferson's Monticello: Paradox of Liberty" exhibit at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. According to the museum, this is the "largest 3D printed museum quality historical replica" on Earth and is a copy of a statue on display at Monticello, the Thomas Jefferson museum in Virginia.

The team working on the Jefferson replica project decided that rather than using a traditional method involving rubber molding and casting, they would utilise modern technologies. Taking a laser scanner worth well up to $100,000 along, they generated an intricately detailed 3D model of the statue that was then turned into the 3D printed replica by RedEye on Demand.

Now, with that high-end scanner, as well as other tools that include digital cameras and cloud-based digitisation software, the team is slowly setting out to begin building a new Smithsonian digital archive. They hope this initiative will eventually lead to scores of 3D printed exhibits, as well as countless 3D models that could theoretically be used in the museums, in schools or just about anywhere people have an interest in the Smithsonian's vast physical holdings.

The only problem? They need more companies that, like RedEye on Demand, have the resources to help bring the efforts to fruition.

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