Ride On, Laser Cowboys!
September 30, 2013

Ride On, Laser Cowboys!

According to National Geographic, the Smithsonian has been busy 3D scanning its artifacts, and in many cases printing those scanned artifacts with a 3D printer. Scientists and curators alike are thrilled by the prospects as the video in the Nat Geo article explains.

Why would they be so happy? Easy…the artifacts do not have to be slathered, overly touched, or possibly damaged. The Smithsonian has two scanners. “One of the scanners is about the size of a toaster and is mounted on a tripod. A rotating mirror occupies a U-shaped cutout on top, so the machine can bounce a laser beam that can scan a room or cave. Another scanner resembles a robotic arm attached to a support base. Both look like they’d be more at home in a movie effects studio or NASA laboratory.”

The 3-D scanners have been used for many purposes, but some of the most important deal with gaining a greater understanding into the artifact. If you are anything like me, then you wanted to know more. Well, National Geographic identified five of the most intriguing scans.

1) Deciphering a Cosmic Buddha Sculpture

This Cosmic Buddha has been studied for years. It has carvings on it, and the 3-D scanning has allowed curator Keith Wilson to learn more about it and even revise the age of the piece. Soon the 3-D scan will hopefully be unraveled so that curators and the public can see it flattened out much in the way we flatten a globe and turn it into a map.

2) Saving Prehistoric Whale Bones

In Chile, researchers found a whale gravesite with bones as old as five million years. But a highway was moving in, so scientists had only one month to document the skeletons. Then the 3-D scanners were called in. “Now, researchers can study the digital scans of the site to figure out how the bones fit together and how they may have ended up in the area.” Soon, researchers hope to produce a life-sized model based on the 3-D scans.

3) Remodeling the “Hall of Extinct Monsters”

The dino hall, aka Hall of Extinct Monsters, at Washington’s National Museum of Natural History will soon be remodeled, so the dinos will be scanned for further research and study. The scans will allow greater understanding of the dino specimens and help the Smithsonian plan for repositioning. “The hope is that designers can use the digital scans when repopulating the exhibit. With the help of the 3-D scans, scientists can digitally render a skeleton and pose it in various places around a computer representation of the new hall to decide where it should go.”

4) Cradling Contemporary Art

3-D scanning has allowed art curators to move and deal with cumbersome pieces of contemporary art by scanning the piece and using the scan to create a cradle. It has also helped with wax sculptures, which because of their delicacy demanded special attention.

5) A 140-year-old Cold Case: Robert Kennicott

The video from The Smithsonian website explains how the 3-D scanning and printing could help give scientists and curators a greater understanding of the past:.

Pretty cool, right?

Obviously, 3D scanning fulfills a surfeit of needs for the Smithsonian and for us all. It’s cool technology and really cool science. By the way, the laser cowboys of the 3D scanning and printing are Vince Rossi and Adam Metallo. Perhaps the Laser Cowboy Kings would be more apropos?

Image Credit: Thinkstock.com

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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