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Smithsonian turns to 3-D imaging to share its expansive collection

3D models of President Abraham Lincoln’s life masks are just two of the Smithsonian’s 137 million artifacts digitally archived and available for the public to see. Image courtesy of Smithsonian Digitization Program Office

Using 3-D printing and scanning to archive its collection, the Smithsonian Institute announced Wednesday the release of the Smithsonian X 3D Explorer, a tool that will make approximately 137 million artifacts more accessible to school, researchers and the public.

With only 1 percent of its collection currently on display in its museum galleries, the Smithsonian hopes that the high-resolution, 3-D models of its artifacts are printed and housed in classrooms and exhibits. Otherwise, its growing digital archive, including 3-D renderings of the Wright Brothers’ first airplane, a Revolutionary gunboat and a woolly mammoth fossil, is available to view online. So far, 20 objects have been scanned.

“The next step is going big — scanning hundreds or thousands of objects per year, instead of a few dozen,” 3D digitization coordinator Vince Rossi said to Smithsonian.com.

The Associated Press reports that the Smithsonian plans on eventually digitizing 13 million objects in 2-D or 3-D, which will take a while.

3-D scanning and printing experts gathered Wednesday for the Smithsonian X 3D Conference. The event, which continues Thursday, will be live streamed below.


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