Bigger On The Inside

The Thomas Jefferson statue from Monticello, scanned, 3D printed, reassembled, and painted bronze

The Thomas Jefferson statue from Monticello, scanned, 3D printed, reassembled, and painted bronze

Consider, for a moment, going to a museum and being told you could only see 2% of the collection.  Despite the incredible sprawling buildings devoted to showcasing the Smithsonian’s collection only this very small percentage of their 137,000,000 piece collection is available for viewing.  Now that the Smithsonian has contracted with a company to begin scanning their collection, more of those pieces tucked away in their archives will be available to the viewing public.

This is really such an exciting development.  While it would be very cool to be able to visit the Smithsonian online and examine digital scans of their collection, it would be so much more amazing to be able to download those 3D scans for printing out.  I can’t wait for the day kids can actually print complete dioramas, examine a physical copy of a feature of a statue, bring a life-size Allosaurus claw replica for show-and-tell, create a giant version of some tiny little sea creature, or a model showing the relative scales of a person and a woolly mammoth.

Museums of the near future could even use 3D scanning to augment their collections on display or traveling exhibits.  A few years ago I was fortunate enough to see the King Tut exhibit in Chicago.  The collection and presentations were amazing – but instead of King Tut himself we saw a life-sized projection of the tomb, the sarcophagus, the mummy, and his bones.  While this was interesting, it would have been more interesting still to have been able to view a life-sized replica created in the same way as the Monticello Jefferson statue.  Now that computing and internet access are nearly ubiquitous, you could even use a smartphone or tablet computer to better examine some feature of an exhibit while you were still inside the museum.1

Thanks Slashdot!

  1. What, were you expecting another post about Doctor Who or something? []