3D print a piece of history, courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute

The Smithsonian Institute is “an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” With over 137 million pieces of history, science, and culture, they’re certainly stockpiling some knowledge. But that diffuse bit, that’s the tricky part. If you’d like some of that sweet Smithsonian knowledge you’ll need to get to Washington, D.C. And the curators don’t like their limited reach, exclaiming “Damn these bounds of proximity!” Okay, that’s not an actual quote of a Smithsonian knowledge diffuser, but this is: “3D printing makes a tremendous impact.” Watch the video and see what he means.

Whereas several Smithsonian pieces have already been printed, now many pieces are available on Smithsonian X 3D (powered by Autodesk) for anyone with a 3D printer to freely produce. Care to hold David Livingston’s shotgun? How about a wooly mammoth skeleton? Oh, I know, Cosmic Buddha. These and more are available for digital 3D viewing and printing, and some others are only available for viewing. Surely both collections will grow, as the curators are becoming spoiled by the 3D scanning and printing technologies.

Whether it’s for exhibits, research, or conservation, plenty of the Smithsonian staff is finding uses for the equipment. They’ve become so comfortable with it all that they say things like “People will have an expectation of seeing objects in 3D.” 3D scanning is the least invasive method of surveying and capturing the geometry and topology of sensitive objects, and 3D printed replicas can be moved and shipped without fear of being lost or broken. Educators have more dynamic tools to present lessons that are engaging and effective. For so many, holding an object leaves an impression like no amount of text ever could. We’re a very tactile and visual species.

Getting these pieces out of the physical boundaries of the Smithsonian and into the hands of future archeologists, biologists, and historians will make those professions more accessible. I say the more accessible education and knowledge, the better. But the lady in the video said it best, “The more we can see, the more we can know, the better questions we can ask and answer, and the more things we can solve.”