Thomas Jefferson: The Smithsonian's 3D printing pioneer
A new effort at the Smithsonian will create digital 3D models and physical 3D printed of many of the objects in its archives, a step that could help researchers and educators alike.
Thomas Jefferson in bronze face
As part of an exhibit at the National Museum of African American History called "Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty," curators needed a great statue of Thomas Jefferson, but the one they would most like to have had was on permanent display at Monticello in Virginia. Rather than using traditional methods--with rubber molding and casting--a team at the Smithsonian decided to pursue a museum-quality 3D printed replica.
The result? What the Smithsonian says is the "largest 3D printed museum quality historical replica" on Earth. And now, it's also the showpiece that begins a much larger effort at the world's biggest museum and research institution: a move to create digital 3D models and physical 3D prints of a wide variety of the objects in its archive.
This could have a profound effect if the effort is successful over time. Visitors to the Smithsonian's many arms see just 2 percent of its giant collection, and widespread digitization could mean that the archives are opened up--virtually, at least--to people throughout the country and the world. And that could be a boon to both researchers and educators, as well as students everywhere.
Plus, the museum itself is likely to be able to display a growing number of sophisticated 3D printed models and replicas, with Jefferson being just the first example.
Making the Jefferson replica statue required 3D laser scans of the existing statue at Monticello. The data that was generated was sent as a digital model to RedEye on Demand, which 3D-printed the new statue in four parts.
The replica statue was made from production-grade thermoplastics, meaning that the final product should be strong and durable. RedEye on Demand used what it calls a "sparse-fill technique" for the statue's interior. That's a process that's similar to honeycomb and means that the statue is light and relatively inexpensive, yet high quality and strong.