The Smithsonian is digitally scanning the nation’s T. rex bone by bone. 

A three-dimensional object is prepared for traditional photography digitization.

In 2014, President Barack Obama becomes the first sitting president to have his portrait taken using 3D imaging and printing technologies.

One of thousands of bumble bee specimens is prepared for rapid capture digitization.

Digitization Program Office

$10 Million raised

Digitization Program Office

Taking the Smithsonian Digital

With 156 million objects, artworks and specimens; 156,000 cubic feet of archival holdings; and 2 million library volumes, the scale and diversity of Smithsonian collections presents a unique challenge for the Digitization Program Office.

Funds raised through the Smithsonian Campaign enabled the office to apply several digitization innovations across the institution. These included the deployment of rapid capture techniques, a revolutionary procedure that speeds up the digitization of objects. One National Museum of Natural History rapid capture project is digitizing the United States National Herbarium collection, consisting of 3.5 million plant specimens, with the help of conveyor belt technology. Visitors to the museum’s website can access the collection online.

Over the course of the campaign, the office also created 3-D scans and models of many iconic Smithsonian objects, making them available online. Scanned objects include the Wright Flyer, Apollo 11 command module, a “life mask” of Abraham Lincoln, the Cosmic Buddha sculpture, sculptures of several American presidents, and a woolly mammoth skeleton. Autodesk, Inc. provided generous support for this work.

Digitization Program Office
Campaign Case

Bringing the Smithsonian to the World

Smithsonian collections are an unrivaled wellspring for knowledge and discovery, but less than one percent of our 138 million objects and artifacts is on display. Digitization has the potential to bring the remaining 99 percent online into the virtual light.

Digital collections inspire awe and wonder in students and teachers alike, fueling their learning with new insights and discoveries. Digitized research sites and specimens enable scientists to address significant challenges, such as the impact of climate change and the loss of biological diversity.

Digitizing the Nation's Collections
The Smithsonian is a recognized innovator and leader in museum digitization. Recent improvements in how we digitize have allowed a single rapid-capture workstation to image over 2,000 scientific specimens in a single day. Conveyor-belt digitization technology can help us increase that figure to more than 6,000 images per day. We have demonstrated cost effective processes that are suited to the breadth, scale and diversity of Smithsonian collections. With your support, we can digitize entire collections, even entire museums, in a few short years. Learn more about the Smithsonian Digitization Program Office at

Leaders in 3D Digitization
The launch of the Smithsonian’s 3D collection applied the latest 3D technology to one-of-a-kind objects, such as the 1903 Wright Flyer, President Lincoln’s Life masks and a prehistoric fossilized whale at a research site in Chile. Online visitors now can examine objects from every angle online or print them in 3D to hold them in their hands. Learn more about 3D innovation at the Smithsonian at

Your investment will bring more Smithsonian treasures into living rooms and classrooms across the country. The Smithsonian will create formal lesson plans that integrate 3D digitization into K-12 school curricula.

We seek funding to work with our educators to develop and test these plans through the Smithsonian’s many informal learning centers and to conduct outreach to teachers and schools. 3D printing will bring difficult concepts such as scientific breakthroughs and inventions to life.

Digitization Program Office

Digitization Program Office

is raising $25 million of the Smithsonian Campaign’s overall $1.5 billion goal. 

Campaign Priorities

Digitize the National Collection

$15 Million

We seek gifts of $15 million to digitize entire collections in the Smithsonian’s largest museums. A gift of $2 million will fund digitization of up to 2 million two-dimensional objects and $500,000 will fund up to 100,000 three-dimensional objects. For smaller museums, gifts starting at $50,000 will complete the digitization of a museum’s entire collection. 

Innovation in 3D Digitization

$10 Million

Investments of $10 million will enable us to continue trailblazing in 3D and connect researchers, teachers and students with these advances to enhance research and learning. A $1 million gift supports investment in rapid-capture robotic and conveyor-belt technologies. A gift of $500,000 will equip and staff a 3D digitization team for one year. Gifts of $25,000 will bring large iconic Smithsonian objects online in 3D.

Digitization Program Office

The Smithsonian digitized 45,000 bumblebees from its collection in 40 days.



Gunther Waibel

Building a Digital Smithsonian

Remove a bumblebee from its storage tray.  Pin it (and the tiny tags that hold the data for each bee) to a custom designed imaging stage.  Add a barcode.  Place it under a high resolution imaging system.  Snap a picture.  Upload the photo to the collections database.  Make it available to the whole world.

That's the process we engaged in at the Smithsonian's Natural History museum on average 1,100 times per day, every day, for 8 weeks with the end result of digitizing a total of 44,000 bumblebees.  This type of digitization throughput for this type of collection has never been achieved before.

The value of this type of data is immeasurable when you consider the impact the declining pollinator population has on the earth's food supply.  "You can recreate environments, say which bumblebees, which birds and which butterflies were at McLean, Virginia, in 1935," says Dave Furth, the entomology department's collections manager, providing an example.

"Pollinators are a big deal now and especially Bombus," Furth says, referring to the genus for bumblebees.  "They're becoming rarer and rarer.  We don't always know why.  By having the data and having images, people can ask a lot of different questions."  The entomology department hopes its database can help people understand that decline and the Digitization Program Office plans to help them with that goal by creating innovative and efficient ways to digitize the tens of millions of insects in the rest of the entomology collection.

A Smithsonian team captures 3D data of a fossil whale in Chile.



Cerro Ballena

3D Team Scans Fossil Whales in Chile

Cerro Ballena ("whale hill") is the paleontological site where a spectacular collection of fossil marine mammals was excavated next to the Pan-American Highway in the Atacama Region of Chile.  The scope of the site was revealed by road construction in 2010 and systematic excavations through 2012 showed that it preserves dozens of complete skeletons of extinct whales, seals and bizarre species such as walrus-whales, and aquatic sloths.  The density of fossil marine mannal skeletons at Cerro Ballena is unrivaled by any other fossil site in the world.  But the hill was about to be buried under highway construction.

The site no longer exists.  The fossil skeletons embedded in rock were removed and stored in a local museum.  It may be decades before the bones are prepared for study and display.  But before the fossils were moved, the Smithsonian's 3D digitization team scanned the entire site, capturing essential data about the arrangement and condition of the skeletons.  3D documentation provided not only a snapshot of paleontological fieldwork, but also a rich data set that will allow future generations to study the anatomy and conditions of several of the whale skeletons as they were originally found. 

Digitization Program Office

Contact Us

Digitization Program Office Campaign Officers

Digitization Program Office

Total Goal:
$10 Million


$10 Million Raised

As of November 30, 2017

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