Smithsonian X 3D Launches with Emphasis on Outreach and Digital Preservation

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Introducing the Smithsonian X 3D Project

This article was written by Lisa Perez, a regular contributor to On 3D Printing.

In an exciting development for all things 3D, this past Wednesday the Smithsonian Institution unveiled Smithsonian X 3D, an online 3D viewer and digital collection that allows anyone to explore digitally and 3D print some of the museum’s most iconic objects in detail.

The X 3D initiative is the centerpiece of a comprehensive effort by the Smithsonian Institution to enhance the preservation and accessibility of its collections through the use of 3D scanning, 3D imaging, and 3D printing.  The Smithsonian’s bold foray into the realms of digital preservation and 3D printing with X 3D is an encouraging sign for observers who are eager to see these technologies applied in a real world setting and an important step forward in their evolutionary cycle.

“The Smithsonian is a leader in using 3D technology to make museum collections and scientific specimens more widely available for anyone to use and study,” said Günter Waibel, the director of the Institution’s Digitization Program Office. “The Smithsonian X 3D explorer and the initial objects we scanned are the first step in showing how this technology will transform the work of the Smithsonian and other museums and research institutions.”

Smithsonian Secretary Dr. G. Wayne Clough has made digital preservation and outreach a priority during his tenure, emphasizing that since 2008, the institution began to explore ways to “let the public in“ through digital technology.  Dr. Clough has also authored an e-book on this subject titled Best of Both Worlds: Museums, Libraries, and Archives in a Digital Age, which was published by the Smithsonian earlier this year.

Leading up to the unveiling of X 3D, the Smithsonian’s Digitization Program Office has led the Institution’s digital outreach effort by testing a range of 3D scanning methods and technologies on iconic objects in the collection and engaging with outside partners.

The end product of these efforts has been an inaugural Smithsonian X 3D collection that includes highly detailed digital renderings of such well known artifacts as Amelia Earhart’s flight suit, a cast of Abraham Lincoln’s face taken during the Civil War, and the world’s first airplane, the Wright Flyer.

Lincoln LifeMasks Smithsonian X 3D

Pictured above: 3D rendering of Abraham Lincolnís life mask, held at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. Credit: Smithsonian Institution.

The Smithsonian anticipates that 3D renderings and 3D printed models generated from these scans will serve as valuable learning tools for researchers, educators and the general public alike.

Another exciting aspect of the initiative, spearheaded by the Digitization Program Office, is the 3D capture and virtual reality mapping of archaeological sites and artifacts.

For example, the archaeological objects scanned as part of the Smithsonian X 3D beta launch include fossil whale skeletons from the Cerro Ballena, an archaeological site in the Atacama region of Chile.

Cerro Ballena Smithsonian X 3D

Pictured above: 3D scanning whale skeletons from Cerro Ballena. Credit: Smithsonian Institution.

During the X3D launch, the Smithsonian’s own 3D Data Wrangler Jonathan Blundell, led visitors through an Oculus Rift virtual reality tour of the fascinating Liang Bua cave on the island of Flores, Indonesia, where the Homo floresiensis­­––the so-called ‘hobbits’ of human evolution––were first discovered in 2003.  This fascinating digital experience is also showcased as one of the available tours on the Smithsonian X 3D viewer, proving that state-of-the-art 3D scanning technology can extend far beyond objects to include even the sites of their discovery.

LiangBua Smithsonian X 3D

Pictured above: Liang Bua. Credit: Smithsonian Institution.


Learn more at about Smithsonian X 3D at

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3 Responses to Smithsonian X 3D Launches with Emphasis on Outreach and Digital Preservation

  1. […] To learn about the program, read our coverage: Smithsonian X 3D Launches with Emphasis on Outreach and Digital Preservation. […]

  2. […] part of the Smithsonian’s X 3D launch, the museum hosted a two-day conference this past week to discuss its 3D initiatives and showcase […]

  3. […] Smithsonian Institution announced a landmark new program called Smithsonian X 3D that allows anyone to digitally explore and 3D print some of the museum’s most iconic […]

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