Last year, the Smithsonian was one of the first American institutions to jump on the 3D printing bandwagon when they scanned and printed a Thomas Jefferson statue from Monitcello. The world-famous museum will now embrace the technology even further by embarking upon a quest to scan its entire collection. From bones to sculptures, the museum will digitally preserve its vast collection of over 14 million items for future generations.
Lead by the team of Vince Rossi and Adam Metallo, also known as the “laser cowboys,” the museum has begun the incredible undertaking of meticulously scanning both lab specimens, artifacts and art works. The team is using a variety of 3D scanning tools, from small spot scanners, to larger high resolution scanners, to recreate their collection, as well as filling in gaps on damaged or aged artifacts for study.
The scanning process will not only help to provide a digital back up of their collection (in addition to the possibility of easy 3D-printed replicas), but will also serve as an incredible resource for research. Students and scientists around the world will have access to the pieces in the collection, down to fine details, to be used in studies and classrooms. Pushing the technology further, the scans can be combined with other programs, allowing researchers or students to rebuild skin and facial features on a skull, or digitally rebuilding a fragment of a boat or vessel.
With this in mind, the team has been scanning the Philadelphia gunboat, a burned 18th Century boat that is normally only partially visible to the public. Through the scans, guests can see the layout of the entire historic boat, whether they visit in person or check on line.
The Smithsonian’s innovative project will open the gates of research by telecommunication, allowing scientists, students and the general public to access detailed artifacts regardless of where they are in the world.