Entering the special exhibit hall at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History in Washington, visitors are greeted by a perfect replica of the bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson that stands at Monticello, his Virginia estate.
But instead of placing the Founding Father before a lush Virginia wilderness, the exhibit stands him in front of a massive wall holding the names of the more than 600 slaves owned by the third U.S. president.
What visitors don’t know is that the scroll-clutching sculpture staring back at them was downloaded from a computer. When asked to build a three-dimensional Jefferson, Smithsonian model makers Vince Rossi and Adam Metallo took a US$100,000 laser scanner to Monticello, scanned the president’s image down to the micron, then reconstituted him inside a 3D printer.
And this is only the beginning, they say. Because only 2% of the Smithsonian’s 137 million item collection is on…
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