Washington • With most of its 137 million objects kept behind the scenes or in a faraway museum, the Smithsonian Institution is launching a new 3-D scanning and printing initiative to make more of its massive collection accessible to schools, researchers and the public.
A small team has begun creating 3-D models of some key objects that represent the breadth of the collection at the world's largest museum complex. Some of the first 3-D scans include the Wright brothers' first airplane, Amelia Earhart's flight suit, casts of President Abraham Lincoln's face during the Civil War and a Revolutionary War gunboat. 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.
Now the Smithsonian is launching a new 3-D viewer online to give people a closer look at artifacts in their own homes. The data can also be downloaded, re-created with a 3-D printer and used to help illustrate lessons in history, art and science in schools. While some schools might acquire 3-D printers for about $1,000, other users may examine the models on their computers.