Tag Archives: Smithsonian

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

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 http://3d.si.edu/.

3D Printing Sparks Innovations in Art – MGX by Materialise at Inside 3D Printing Chicago

MGX Mammoth Stereolithography 3D Printing

MGX by Materialise Leads the Charge in 3D Printing and Artist Collaboration

At the Inside 3D Printing conference in ChicagoJoris Debo talked about a brave new art world pioneered by Materialise with their Mammoth Stereolithography 3D printing technology. Materialise is a Belgian based company that is involved in additive manufacturing (3D printing) in many industries like software development, rapid fit (automotive & aerospace), biomedical (CT & MRI scans) & orthodics among others. Debo is the Creative Director at MGX, which is the consumer goods division for Materialise and he is especially passionate about using 3D printing technology to “create objects that are both art and functional.”

MGX has become a company that closely works together with artists to come up with new pieces that would be very difficult and extremely labor intensive to make without 3D technology.  Joris noted, “When I arrived in the company eight years ago, there were two people that were not engineers. Over the years, we’ve commissioned people, like Patrick Jouin, for a new era of digital aesthetics.”

MGX is in multiple collaborations with artists and fashion designers like Iris Van Herpen for example. Van Herpen has revolutionized fashion with mesmerizing futuristic designs that push the boundaries of art and fashion. In fact, a lot of her pieces are found in museums after they hit the runway. Debo notes how like Van Herpen, the “people that make these dresses are the new craftsmen.”

3D printing also allows the combination of traditional art with very high end furniture that matches the art. Joris pointed out how if you have a Jackson Pollock in your home and you want something to match the Jackson Pollock, an artist can custom create a piece or multiple pieces of furniture to match the Jackson Pollock using MGX’s 3D printing technology. Debo further noted how it’s “not only about 3D printing but about craftsmen that can finish the pieces.” This applies to pieces of furnitures, sculptures and even art replicas like museums have begun to use recently.

i.Materialise Root Chair 3D Printing MGX

The Root Chair by Sulan Kolatan and William MacDonald

Joris discussed how art pieces or historical artifacts are sometimes too fragile to travel the world and thus insurance companies will not cover their repair if broken. Moreover, some artifacts, like King Tut’s mummy for example, are irreplaceable and is too risky to move regardless of the financial cost. To show King Tut’s mummy in New York City, National Geographic partnered with MGX in order to make a perfect replica that allowed people to feel they were actually looking at the real King Tut. These kinds of partnerships make it clear as to why museums like the Smithsonian is investing in 3D printing technologies that allow for their rare pieces from fossils to sculptures to be replicated.  In sum, 3D printing technology is not only revolutionizing the industrial world, but it is already changing the aesthetics and culture around us, from clothing to furniture to historical artifacts and art pieces.


Authored by On 3D Printing contributor Rodrigo Garza Zorrilla, technology entrepreneur and advisor.

Rebuild (or Clone) the Forbidden City with 3D Printing

3D printing is being used to restore ancient artifacts from Beijing’s Forbidden City. Through a process of high resolution optical scanning, relics are being digitized and reprinted so that they are not lost.

The team is capturing the shape of the original objects using laser or optical scanners then cleaning up the data using reverse engineering techniques. This allows damaged parts of intricate artefacts to be restored in the 3D model before being 3D printed. This has been possible for some time, but Zhang has developed a formalised approach tailored to the restoration of historic artefacts. The teams is working on the ceiling and enclosure of a pavilion in the Emperor Qianlong Garden.

This technique has also been used to “clone” artifacts so that every museum can host the most valuable collections for its patrons.

The Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.has over 137 million artifacts in its collection but only two per cent are exhibited to the public at any one time. Now, the organisation hopes to make more available by sharing its objects with other museums - or at least 3D-printed copies.

It’s interesting how techniques that previously could be considered akin to piracy are now being used to preserve cultural icons.

Via Wired.

A Look Back: 3D Printing in 2010 [Interactive Timeline]

2010 was a pivotal year in 3D printing technology. In an interactive timeline, TeamTeamUSA lists the key developments that moved the industry over the year.


Check out the full timeline at Dipity.