Would you like to own an exact copy of objects from the Smithsonian Museum? Now you can, thanks to the new technology of 3D printing. You can download a file and use it with a 3D printer to create exact duplicates of original artifacts. Price of 3D printers are dropping rapidly. However, if you do not have a 3D printer, you also can view a 3D representation of an object on your computer screen. I suspect this will become very popular in schools as well as for in-home use.
NOTE: 3D printing isn't really printing, at least not in the way most of us think of printing. Actually, 3D printing is a process of making a three-dimensional solid object of virtually any shape. The object to be duplicated is first scanned by a 3D scanner and the output is stored in a computer as a digital file. A 3D printer is then used to convert that file into a solid object that typically is an exact copy of the original.
For more information about 3D printing, look at Wikipedia's article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3D_printing.
A small team at the Smithsonian has begun creating 3D models of some key objects that represent the breadth of the collection. Only a few of the millions of items in the Smithsonian collection have been scanned so far, but the plan is to continually add more items to the digital collection. Some of the first 3D scans include the Wright brothers' first airplane, Amelia Earhart's flight suit, and casts of President Abraham Lincoln's face during the Civil War. Less familiar objects include a former slave's horn, a missionary's gun from the 1800s and a woolly mammoth fossil from the Ice Age. They are pieces of history some people may hear about but rarely see or touch.
Today, the museum is launching a new 3D viewer online to give people a closer look at artifacts in their own homes. The data can also be downloaded, recreated with a 3D printer and used to help illustrate lessons in history, art and science in schools. While some schools might acquire 3D printers for about $1,000, other users may examine the models on their computers.
The hope is that many other museums and even private collectors will start scanning and digitizing objects in their collections.
You can read a lot more in an article in the CBC web site at http://goo.gl/wHbdB5.
I am looking forward to the increasing popularity of 3D scanning and printing. I would love to share copies of great-grandmother's silverware with my relatives who are also her descendants. In return, they could share copies of their inherited heirlooms with me and with other cousins.