The entire collection of rare objects at one of the world's most famous museums, the Smithsonian, may soon be readily available for other museums and organizations around the world, thanks to 3D printing! Using oversized 3D scans, the Smithsonian Institute is making a effort to recreate their massive collection, from sculptures to fossils, and make 3D models and a 3D digital archive of each. One of the first specimens, a 3D-printed replica that the Institute made of a Thomas Jefferson statue from Monticello, was just installed at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The Smithsonian Institute’s vast collection numbers over 137 million items, and of that only 2 percent is on display at one time. Despite many pieces being in storage, the Institute is making a concerted effort to share its bounty with the rest of the country by making copies available. Traditionally, sculptures and busts are copied using an arduous process of molding and casting. But the Smithsonian decided that using modern technology could be a better way to create museum quality replicas.
Using a Minolta laser scanner worth upwards of $100,000, sculptures, busts, and other items are scanned to create meticulous 3D models. The Smithsonian works with Studio EIS to create the scan, and then has the file printed by RedEye on Demand. Just like castings, the models are then treated with the appropriate patinas, paints and finishes to match the originals.
By replicating the pieces digitally, the Smithsonian is not only making copies easily available, but also slowly creating a 3D digital archive. The scans together make up an alternate digital Smithsonian which could keep artifact information safe should the originals be damaged, but also enables museums, schools, and other organizations unprecedented access to the museum’s collection.
Images ©Smithsonian 3D Digitization