Smithsonian Uses 3D Printer to Make Detailed Bust of Barack Obama

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A team of experts at the Smithsonian made history this month by using a 3D Printer to create a portrait of a sitting U.S president. While portraits and busts of the nation's leaders are old hat, the use of the new technology demonstrates not only its versatility, but its potential to impact how we view and record history.

Using data collected by the team that scanned the president earlier this year, the bust below is the most accurate portrait of a U.S. president ever made.

Bustadjust Smithsonian Uses 3D Printer to Make Detailed Bust of Barack Obama

3D imaging specialist Vince Rossi praised the detail of this new technique: “You can see down to the wrinkles in the skin and the pores on his face.

The bust was created with the help of experts from California’s Institute for Creative Technologies. Using a ‘light stage’ scanner for president Obama’s face and a handheld scanner for the rest of his shoulder and head, the entire process reportedly took only about 5 minutes. The information was then handed off to the experts at Autodesk where high resolution models were created. The bust itself is plastic and took 40 hours to print using 3D Systems‘s selective laser sintering printer.

The new bust will find a home alongside life masks of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, and may serve as the first of many future presidential portraits to use this 3D printing method.

While the bust itself is historic, the plans the Smithsonian has for its new Smithsonian X 3D, which was launched in 2013, are even more exciting.¬†Smithsonian educators have started building an interactive library of 3D scans that students and history buffs can peruse and rotate online for fully detailed, three dimensional likenesses. The images thus far include everything from the Wright Brothers’s 1903 flyer to a 3D image of a supernova. Much of the library will even be downloadable, allowing educators to print their own copies of museum pieces. Imagine the ability to print your very own dinosaur bones, or share detailed copies of one-of-a-kind fossils.

The diminishing cost of 3D printing gives rise to their accessibility, and could mean even more exciting breakthroughs in the near future. For now, the experts at the Smithsonian are leading the charge.

Images: Smithsonian Insitution

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