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Smithsonian using 3D scanning to archive collection

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A new initiative at the Smithsonian is attempting to create an archive of all 137 million objects through 3D scanning.

Thomas Jefferson 3D print
Thomas Jefferson 3D print

The Smithsonian has a collection of approximately 137 million items, but only limited space to display it all, so the institute is turning to 3D printing and scanning to make its massive collection more widely available. The plan is to create a digital archive of the many objects housed by the museum, which could then be printed and put on display in exhibits at schools, museums, or elsewhere — currently only two percent of its collection is available for the public to see. While news of the project has only recently come to light, it looks like it's been in the works for at least a few months, as partner RedEye Rapid Prototyping posted images of a 3D printed Thomas Jefferson that were taken back on October 24th.

The goal of archiving the collection is certainly ambitious, and with two people currently working on the project, only a few dozen objects can be scanned each year and not all will be printed. It may be a long time before all 137 million items are in the database, but eventually those 3D models could be made available to the public, with one member of the team saying "we're trying to assess how to scale that up, how to make digital [models publicly] available."