Thomas Jefferson 3-D printerWith over 137 million objects in its various collections, lending pieces out to other museums is not really an option for the Smithsonian. Instead, the world renowned institution is turning to 3-D printing technology – much like scientists are doing in paleontology – to make replicas (down to the micron level) available to museums throughout the globe.

The project's coordinators, Adam Metallo and Vince Rossi, said the museum is working closely with Studio EIS and RedEye on Demand while enlisting a $100,000 Minolta laser scanner. Not only will this technology be able to create 3-D printed models, but a digital archive as well. First up to the cloning block was a statue of Thomas Jefferson that was recently installed at the National Museum of African American History and Culture for the "Slavery at Jefferson's Monticello: Paradox of Liberty" exhibit.

But to make more of the museum's more celebrated and lesser-known pieces available to the public, the project has a long ways to go. For all the initiative's aspirations, lack of funding and man power is making it difficult to really get the venture underway, and that's a real bummer for everyone.

Ultimately, though, the two hope to not only get a digital archive started, but make the information more widely available so that schools, other museums and even the public can have access to the enormous collection. Of the Smithsonian's 137 million objects, only two percent is on display at any given time, meaning much of it goes unseen.

"If we could leverage the power of 3D to bring a portion of that collection to the world," Metallo told CNET, "that would be incredibly powerful, and definitely worth the expense."

Replicating the exhibits down to the micron level is unsurprisingly difficult to distinguish to their real-life counterparts – the above picture of the Thomas Jefferson statue is a replica, by the way. Hopefully – for education's sake, and for the preservation of history – the project will receive more resources to help make the past more accessible to the future.

[via CNET]