The Smithsonian will let anyone 3D print recreations of historical artifacts and this is amazing and revolutionary to the world of museum reserach and here’s why: 

The more we can see, the more we can know. The better questions we can ask, and answer, the more things we can solve. 

-Carol RoetzelButler, Assistant Manager for Collections, Smithsonian NMNH

  • Some of the biggest complications with museums sharing their artifacts and specimens can be attributed to their rarity and fragility. By providing researchers access to high-definition scans of these objects, morphological studies can be performed with no damage done to the object. 
  • Laws inhibiting the transportation of certain articles (endangered animals over borders, repatriated items, etc) allows for the objects to be studied without becoming caught up in legal issues. 
  • Sharing is caring. With so few objects on display in a public space, this is another way museums can open up their collections to the public in order to inspire new generations of future scientists. 
  • The ability for educators to use physical objects in hands-on learning environments will be greatly increased. This is a huge benefit to visual and tactile learners! 

What this doesn’t mean: 

  • It does not mean museums as collection houses are going to become obsolete. We still need curators, collections managers, and research staff of all types to continue working for these collections. Perhaps more importantly, we need them now more than ever: it will never be possible to scan every item in every museum collection (consider that nearly every other museum is unable to afford the technology for these projects at this time), it will be up to those collections managers and caretakers to determine which objects are to be scanned and uploaded in the first place. This is just a way to open up this field of study to a wider audience. 
  • It does not mean the collection of objects from the field stops. We continue to gain insights based off of location of specimens and their distribution patterns. They change with their environment, and our environment is changing at an alarming pace. Chemical and genetic analysis of the original objects are still going to be some of the most important characteristics of those items. Until we can figure out a way to share this information readily as well, morphological study of items is only painting half of the picture. 
  • It dose not mean everything is going to change overnight. The technology is new and inaccessible to the majority of museums, as well as the public as a whole. This is just the start of something new and wonderful. 

As The Field Museum continues to develop our own CT scanning and 3D printing technologies, I really hope we will be able to contribute to this exciting new field of study soon! We really have no idea how this is going to change within the next five, ten, twenty years. It’s thrilling to be on the cusp of this gigantic wave. 

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