Recently at NMNH, we've been inspired by the hard work of the laser cowboys (check out this month's Smithsonian magazine), and have started a nascent 3D digitization program in the department of Paleobiology. The goal is to generate high-resolution 3D digital datasets of museum specimens by combining laser surface scanning, photogrammetry and CT imaging -- as close as we can get to a full digital avatar of the real thing. 3D printing is just a small end result of what we hope is a much more accessible final set of products that connect everyone to what we do at the Smithsonian. The video below, featuring the laser cowboys (Adam Metallo and Vince Rossi from the Smithsonian Digitization Program Office's 3D Lab), explains this approach a bit better:
Back to the skull: as USNM 546125, the Panamanian dolphin skull. As a future holotype, it will become part of the type series of fossil marine mammals here at NMNH, and it is an excellent candidate to receive the full digital treatment. Holly Little, a recent hire and long-standing co-conspirator with the laser cowboys, has been hard at work on digitizing this specimen, and we plan to share more down the road. But for now, here's a preview:
A 3D point cloud of USNM 546125, made from many hundreds of "laser brushes" using the high-resolution laser arm scanner. The more trippy the better the quality of the dataset -- seriously! (h/t Holly Little).