If you had asked 5-year-old me, "What’s the first thing you’d like to print on a 3D printer?" I would spit out a string of gibberish, because my mouth wouldn’t be able to form the words, "dinosaur skeleton," fast enough. Fortunately for everyone, the Smithsonian has a team looking to make that dream a reality.
Adam Metallo and Vince Rossi compose the entirety of the Smithsonian’s 3D Lab, an arm of their overall digitization office. This two-man outfit is tasked with digitally scanning as many of the Institute’s 137 million objects as possible.
"The main purpose of 3D scanning an exhibit like this is to have an archive of what an exhibit of this era might have looked like," Metallo said in an interview with Around The Mall, a Smithsonian blog. "This is documentation for folks in the future to know what a museum experience here was like."
While the cost of 3D printing means it may be a while before you can pop out a model of a Velociraptor’s jaw, Metallo maintains that the digitization of Smithsonian exhibits has real-world benefits in the here and now, namely providing researchers with easy access to specimens.
"There’s one specimen that’s on display two stories up in the air," Metallo said. "Now, instead of a researcher having to get up on a scissor lift to look at it, we can just email him the digital model."
A shot of the Smithsonian’s 3D Lab equipment, taken from their Facebook.
What the Smithsonian plans to do with these models is unclear. They issued a statement to Boing Boing in 2012 that said, "we have no plans to make 3D scans of our collection freely available for the public to print... Our 3-D team mentioned that we COULD go there theoretically, but as of right now, it is not part of our plan."
However, in the recent profile of Rossi and Metallo on their own website, they said, "it’s not inconceivable that you could print out your own stegosaurus skeleton for your living room on your home 3D printer someday."
While the Institute’s motives may not be readily apparent, the 3D Lab has their reasoning down pat. Rossi told CNet in 2012 that he wished to create, "a new form of museum collection," that could be accessed by schools, institutions and maybe even everyday folks with computers.