Museum Teams Up with Autodesk and 3D Systems to Create Interactive Exhibit


The secrets of many of the world's greatest historical artifacts are now online as part of the Smithsonian X 3D Explorer collection.

Researchers have used 3D scanners to capture much of the museum's world-class collection and made it available to anyone with an Internet connection and a device to access it.

Right now, the online exhibit includes 3D models of dozens of artifacts from the Wright brother's first plane to a model of a supernova.

Members of the museum's digitization team have spent years cataloging the artifacts. Among some the exhibit's more fascinating pieces are:

  • A life-size, limestone sculpture of the Buddha enhanced to show low-relief etchings of narrative scenes, providing a rare glimpse into early Chinese vision of the Buddhist cosmos.
  • Life masks of Abraham Lincoln created in 1860 and 1865 capture in vivid detail the toll the American Civil War took on one of our nation's greatest leaders.

Users can rotate the objects, take accurate measurements between points and adjust color and lighting. The explorer also has a storytelling feature, which allows Smithsonian curators and educators to create guided tours of the models.

The raw 3D data from the objects will be made available for downloading for personal and noncommercial use. Teachers can use the data to create 3D models of these objects for use in their classrooms.


"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," said Günter Waibel, the director of the Institution's Digitization Program Office.

The Smithsonian teamed up with San Francisco-based Autodesk to create the ground-breaking, interactive exhibit.

"We hope that exploring these priceless artifacts, heirlooms, fossils and scientific specimens in 3D will generate more public excitement around science and technology – especially among students," Autodesk Senior Vice President Amar Hanspal said.

The Rock Hill, S.C. company 3D Systems also worked with the museum to scan, design and print objects from several Smithsonian exhibits, including one of the large fossilized whales found in Chile's Atacama Desert.

"The technology contributed and showcased by 3D Systems is an illustration of our vision to manufacture the future, to preserve the past and to share our collective memories and our national treasures," 3D Systems Vice President Ping Fu said.