Lead Forensics

How the Smithsonian is using 3D scanning to make the past more accessible

May 28, 2015 | 3D Scanning, Artifacts, Sculpture

The Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC is working on the 3D digitisation of their collection that includes about 138 million works of art, specimens and other pieces.

To make the most of their limited resources, they seek out different kinds of objects that represent a specific category of the institution’s holdings. That way, they can demonstrate how 3D scanning and printing is can benefit each department. They also use the experience to start creating ways to scale their workflow to fit that department’s needs.

“We’re trying to digitize objects that represent the breadth of the collections at the Smithsonian,” said 3D Program Officer, Adam Metallo.

The team have been to Chile to scan the skeleton of a Rorqual whale, which was being recovered by paleontologists at a unique archaeological site known as Cerro Ballena. With the data, they’re working to make 3D-printed models of the archaeological dig sites.

“The scale down is a traditional technique for paleontologists,” Metallo said. “This is a great way to do that.”

Fellow Program Officer Vincent Rossi realized the power of 3D printing when the team scanned life-masks of Abraham Lincoln. Using laser-scan data from paintings and photography, they created 3D-print-ready models of the 16th president and of course printed them. Though they were using an advanced technological method to do it, the print made Lincoln seem more real, Rossi said.

“To connect with this larger than life figure on a human level — being able to hold it in your hands,” Rossi said. “That was really big for us.”

They didn’t need old portraits for their next presidential print. Late last year, the team went to the White House to produce a scan of President Barack Obama.

The result was billed as the most accurate 3D model of a head of state ever created. Metallo believes it will help future generations to better understand what Obama looked like.

“It’s not taking away the past,” he said of the team’s work. “It’s making the past more accessible.”

(Excerpt of an article from the Technical.ly Baltimore website.)

About The Blog

The PES Scanning blog provides information and news on the scanning and engineering services we offer. The blog also includes views from our team and information about projects we’ve been working on.