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Thomas Jefferson in bronze faceAs part of an exhibit at the National Museum of African American History called "Slavery at Jefferson?s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty," curators needed a great statue of Thomas Jefferson, but the one they would most like to have had was on permanent display at Monticello in Virginia. Rather than using traditional methods--with rubber molding and casting--a team at the Smithsonian decided to pursue a museum-quality 3D printed replica.
The result? What the Smithsonian says is the "largest 3D printed museum quality historical replica" on Earth. And now, it's also the showpiece that begins a much larger effort at the world's biggest museum and research institution: a move to create digital 3D models and physical 3D prints of a wide variety of the objects in its archive.
This could have a profound effect if the effort is successful over time. Visitors to the Smithsonian's many arms see just 2 percent of its giant collection, and widespread digitization could mean that the archives are opened up--virtually, at least--to people throughout the country and the world. And that could be a boon to both researchers and educators, as well as students everywhere.
Plus, the museum itself is likely to be able to display a growing number of sophisticated 3D printed models and replicas, with Jefferson being just the first example.