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Idealog—in the ideas business

Smithsonian embarks on massive digitising drive

The venerable Smithsonian Institute has big plans to digitise its 137 million-piece collection – generating a new archive of 3D-printed models, exhibits, and scientific replicas. 

The Jefferson replica. Photo: RedEye on Demand/Smithsonian/Studio EIS

As CNET reports, this is a major, major undertaking by the world's largest museum and research complex. Only about two percent of its collection is available for public viewing at any one time, so the project will help open up access to the museum’s artifacts to schools and other institutions.

Prior to this, according to Smithsonian 3D digitisation coordinator Adam Metallo, the only way to replicate pieces would be to make a copy using rubber moulding and casting.

Metallo and Vince Ross, a fellow coordinator, are the only two working on the project. Armed with a Minolta laser scanner, normal digital cameras and freely available cloud-based digitisation software, and a contract with Studio EIS, they're working their way through a few dozen projects a year, generating 3D models that are then turned into a 3D printed replica by RedEye on Demand.

A 3D printed replica of a Thomas Jefferson statue is currently the largest 3D printed museum-quality historical replica on Earth, Metallo says.

Some of these projects will end up as 3D printouts like the Jefferson model, while others will live on as digital 3D models.

But they do face a hurdle: how to ensure the data they create now will still be useable decades down the track?


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