It is no secret that technology is rapidly developing. In the past few years the world has produced many unique and sci-fi like inventions such as Google Glass. Amongst these new technologies is 3D printing.
3D printing is the process of using a digital file to make three dimensional solid objects. A 3D printer uses an additive process to create three dimensional objects. Essentially it takes the digital model and slices that model into many thin horizontal layers which are combined together to create a physical 3D object based upon the original digital file. 3D printers allow people to translate a digital image into the physical world and in doing so creates a lot of potential for digital historians.
The artifacts found in a museum or an archive are often in a strict “hands off” relationship with the public. This is usually due to the frail nature of the objects or being done to prevent any future damage. While this hands off policy is necessary to help conserve a collection it unfortunately results in limited engagement with the public. Wouldn’t it be nice if museums could let everyone touch and hold prized artifacts? Wouldn’t it be nice to allow people to handle dinosaur bones or a sculpture from ancient Greece? This is where 3D printing comes in handy.
3D printing is being used by historians and museums to help bridge the gap between the artifacts and the public. By completing a 3D scan of an artifact, that information can then be used in conjunction with a 3D printer to create an accurate model of the artifact. Museums can therefore have a display of dinosaur bones for example and then a separate section with 3D printed bones that patrons can touch and engage with.
An interesting 3D printing project is currently underway at the Smithsonian. Project “Smithsonian X 3D” is currently in beta testing and already has objects that users can explore. The Smithsonian X 3D project has made use of 3D scanning technology to begin scanning and creating digital images of their collection. Some of these digital models are available on their website and users can click on an object of interest and then manipulate the image on their computer.
|Pergolesi Side Chair. http://3d.si.edu/browser|
While playing around with these digital images on one’s computer is interesting, yet this is not the limit of the potential of these digital images. The Smithsonian X 3D project also allows users to download the digital information of these artifacts. This allows for people to remotely access the Smithsonian’s collection and use the downloaded data to print a replica of the artifact. This not only allows users to engage more closely with the artifacts but creates greater access to the collection as the 3D printing can be done offsite.
3D printing therefore offers digital historians much potential when it comes to visualizing, preserving and connecting to artifacts. By taking digital imaging to the next step and creating 3D replicas historians and their audience can better engage with artifacts and hopefully create an enhanced historical narrative.