Museums and The Brave New World of 3D Printing

3D printing is quietly revolutionizing the museum landscape all over the world. Thanks to this amazing technology the scientists have more possibilities and can apply new methods.


In one of our previous articles we introduced to you exciting virtual tours through museums, which – often with the help of 3D printing – level up the common museum visit. But that’s not all: 3D printing can also make a real contribution to scientific work, curation and creating exhibitions in museums. One of the latest outstanding examples for this field is the 3D printing-based restauration of Notre Dame.

Bull Whip, Fedora and a 3D Printer

Already back in 2012, Joseph Greene and Adam Aja from Harvard University’s Semitic Museum, used 3D printing and 3D scanning technology to recreate an over 3000 years old ceramic lion from the ancient Mesopotamian city of Nuzi (modern day Iraq). Through photographing the existing fragments in hundreds of different angles in combination with comparing the missing pieces with other artifacts from the same location, the team was able to create a 3D model of the original artifact and print it.

“The Semitic Museum has thousands of other objects this technique could be applied to, as do other museums around the world,” said Greene. “3-D imaging [with] or without printing is a perfect way to study, conserve, share and teach using objects.”“

Since then, the Semitic Museum, which is now called Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East (to be more inclusive with all the different culture aspects), has not only evolved its name but also its 3D printing works. By now you are able to have a detailed virtual look at nearly 300 objects from the museum.

A 3D-Printed Abdomen

The Science Museum in London acquired a very special object lately. For the great opening of the new Medicine Galleries in 2019, curator Selina Hurley searched for many items and made many acquisitions, but one was very special. By now, you can visit the 3D model of a children’s abdomen – either in real life or virtually. It was created by Pankaj Chandak in 2016 to help surgeons planning complex operations, such as the kidney transplantation between Lucy and her father, where the 3D models had their first use.

“Each model took over 10 hours to print. Materials chosen to match the bony, hard pelvis and the much softer structures such as the liver and the sidewalls of the abdomen added texture to the models.”

Pankaj Chandak won the Norman Tanner Medal from the Royal Society of Medicine and the Worshipful Company of Cutlers’ Clarke Medal and Prize for Innovation and now speaks worldwide on the use of 3D printing in complex surgery.

So Many Possibilities

You see, 3D printing is quietly changing the museum and thereby also the scientific landscape. And its possibilities and application fields are so diverse. From students learning the methods of palaeontology, the reconstruction of ancient dragon banners , printing artifacts of the Smithsonian at home, to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, which printed some of its objects to take them to a children hospital to entertain and educate the children.

The exciting technology of 3D printing is not only a benefit for the more modern suggested fields like biology, engineering, IT, etc but enables all industries, branches and sectors to be more flexible, to get rid of common boundaries and to find new solutions for old problems.

Do you know other great examples for outstanding 3D printing projects? We are looking forward to your recommendations!

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