About the Smithsonian 3D Program

The 3D Program is a small group of technologists working within the Smithsonian Institution's Digitization Program Office. We focus on developing solutions to further the Smithsonian's mission of “the increase and diffusion of knowledge” through the use of three-dimensional scanning technology, analysis tools, and our distribution platform.

This work is already transforming core functions of our museums. Researchers in the field can now come back not only with specimens, but also 3D data documenting entire sites. Curators and educators are using 3D data as the basis for telling stories and sending students on quests of discovery. Conservators are using 3D data to track the condition of a collection item over time using 3D deviation analysis tools, showing exactly what changes have occurred to an object.

To say that we have a large job facing us is an understatement. The Smithsonian has more than 155 million unique artifacts and specimens; 3D scanning collections of these objects will be no small task. The challenges presented by these collections are many, from the variation in the shapes, sizes, textures and fragility of items, each of which presents its own issues, to changing scanning technologies and the ever increasing numbers of collection items, weare set up for some daunting opportunities. Even if we were to scan those items at the wildly unrealistic rate of one per minute, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year it would take us over 300 years.

We’ve been learning how to overcome these challenges by doing significant work to create and test scanning workflows. Over the past few years, we’ve progressed from doing one-off 3D scanning projects, to more complex single projects (such as the space Shuttle Discovery and Tyrannosaurus Rex), to small sets of items. Now we’re moving into a new phase: developing strategies and processes for high-throughput 3D digitization that can allow us to capture entire collections of objects.

Leveraging the world's most advanced 3D scanning technology

Because of the scale of our challenge, we are partnering with the world's most advanced technology firms, collaborating on ambitious projects. Our hope is to help the Smithsonian share its collections with new audiences and find better ways to accomplish its mission, while giving our partners opportunities to develop new products and processes in automated, high-throughput, high-quality 3D scanning.

Currently, we are looking for partners to solve the following challenges:

  • finding ways to automate and scale parts of our process so that we can transition to a higher-throughput operation, while maintaining scanning quality and the highest level of safety for the objects and specimens being scanned;
  • creating an application program interface (API) that allows external platforms to connect to the Smithsonian content and seamlessly present it to their user base;
  • developing ways to manage, organize, and share the large amounts of 3D data and metadata (that is, data about the 3D data) that we collect, allowing viewers to understand where the models they are looking at came from and how best to interpret them;
  • enabling curators and other subject matter experts to enhance 3D models with annotations, creating stories around those models that enrich their educational content and blend effortlessly with the viewing experience;
  • creating an open source, web based 3D viewer that will allow users to appreciate the 3D models and data we create, regardless of what technology platform they use; and
  • building an open source community around the development and use of the applications we will create.

In a relatively short period of time, we have been honored to collaborate with colleagues across the Smithsonian Institution on projects as diverse as 3D scanning the Nation’s T. rex, the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia, the Cosmic Buddha sculpture, President Abraham Lincoln’s life masks, the 1903 Wright Flyer, and many others. We have also partnered with some of the leading technology firms working in the field, including Autodesk and Google, to advance the state of the art in 3D scanning, VR and viewing technology. Ultimately, our hope is that the technology solutions we develop in collaboration with our partners will allow more meaningful interactions with the Smithsonian's collections for a far larger audience.

With only 1% of the Smithsonian's collections on display at any one time, digitization could allow us to bring the remaining 99% of the collection into the virtual light. These digital assets will allow not just the Smithsonian, but the world at large, to tell and share new stories about the familiar - and the unfamiliar - treasures in these collections.

 

About the 3D Team

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Max Anderson

Max Anderson

3D Specialist

Max Anderson is from Texas. He has a BFA from Maryland Institute College of Art, where he focused on performance studies, digital fabrication, and painting. At the DPO, Max is mostly concerned with consolidating raw data in to finished 3D models, and web-based applications. He lives in Baltimore, where he makes analog electronic instruments and tries to do things with words.

Staff picture of Jon Blundell

Jon Blundell

3D Digitization Specialist

A Maryland native, Jon Blundell is currently living out the assumption he made at the age of 6, that he would either be working at the Smithsonian, or become an astronaut. He chose the shorter commute. The intervening years he spent going to school, working in the historic preservation trades, and participating in DC’s punk scene. At the DPO Jon spends his time producing 3D scanned models of Smithsonian objects to support conservation and research, and most importantly increase public access to the Smithsonian’s collections. Having grown up with the Smithsonian a Metro ride away, he is pleased to be part of the effort to share the institution’s vast collection with the world. When he’s not uploading the Smithsonian’s collection to the Matrix he can be found dabbling in math, playing tabletop games, and climbing fake rocks.

Joe Conrad

Joe Conrad

3D Specialist

Joe Conrad joined the Smithsonian in 2017 as a 3D scanning and modeling specialist after working for several years in private industry. Joe is well-versed in both the natural sciences and the humanities, having earned a B.S. in Marine Science and a B.A. in History at Eckerd College in 2010. His first exposure to 3D technology applied to questions in the field of Ancient Greek and Roman naval warfare as a graduate student in the Department of History at the University of South Florida where he completed his M.A. in Ancient History in 2013. He is excited to apply knowledge gained in the private sector to collections across the Smithsonian. In his spare time, Joe enjoys Latin dance, independent and foreign film, examining US foreign policy, and weight training. 

Meg Dattoria

Meg Dattoria

3D Specialist

Borne of polygons and fire, Meg joined the Smithsonian with a background in 3D modeling and traditional metalsmithing. After receiving her degree in Interdisciplinary Object Design from Towson University in 2012, she started with Smithsonian Exhibits (formerly the Office of Exhibits Central) making models and artifact mounts for exhibits. In 2015, Meg broke the LCD ceiling and joined the 3D team’s “laser cowboys” as the first cowgirl. Since then, she finds fulfillment digitizing the Smithsonian’s collections and forcing people to look at pictures of her 2 dogs, 4 chickens, and 2 ducks.

Vincent Rossi

Vincent Rossi

Senior 3D Program Officer

Vincent Rossi hails from the great state of New Jersey. He has a BFA in sculpture from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and Graduate level fine art study at Goldsmiths College/ University of London, England. From 2004 to 2011, he worked as a sculptor, model maker and project manager for the Smithsonian's Office of Exhibit Central and helped produce and manage many Smithsonian exhibits. From 2011 to present Vince works as a 3D Program Officer for the Smithsonian's Digitization Program Office - building 3D capacity, developing 3D workflows and trying to live life to the fullest.