HOW HARD IS IT TO 3D SCAN A LIGHTBULB? Part 2

Can you 3D print a Lightblub?

In my last post I discussed the difficulties of scanning a light bulb.  Its transparent, and this causes quite a few problems with 3D scanning technology.

 

But we managed sort of, so now I’m going to discuss the process of turning the digital scan into a 3D printed object.

The chances are you already know all about 3D printing and the potential it offers museums in numerous ways.  If not. Liz Neely and Miriam Langer’s Museum and the Web 2013 paper Please Feel the Museum: The Emergence of 3D Printing and Scanning is a good place to start, as is the Collections Trust post are we ready for 3D printing?

The 3D scanning of a historical light bulb from the UCL Science and Engineering collection raised a number of challenges that museum face when wanting to scan their objects, but we held an rather ‘suck it and see’ attitude and wanted to test out the possibilities.  A quick and dirty action research approach as a means to understand the technological potential.

A point of note, there are really three steps to 3D printing; scanning, modelling and printing.  Due to our novice status in the 3D printing world (and the time we had available), we pretty much skipped the modelling phase.  Hindsight suggests we should haven’t done that.  The scans we produced were not faultless, but scans can be cleaned up using free tools (see my earlier post about my 3D printed head – where MeshMixer was used to fix gaps in the models).  A nice free tool is MeshMixer which has built-in tools to help identify gaps in the scanned mesh and can auto-fix these.  MeshMixer is by AutoDesk and is free to download.  http://www.meshmixer.com/download.html

The Printer:

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We used a MakerBot: Replicator 2 to print our light bulbs.  UCL CASA kindly let us experiment with their Replicator 2.  If you look carefully you should be able to see my 3D printed head in the photo.

This uses heated plastic as a raw printing material and recreates objects from the scanned mesh files using a moving nozzle which melts the plastic and repeatedly plots layers molten plastic on top of each other to form a matrix.

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3D printing is a fairly temperamental process. Because the plastic reaches incredibly high temperatures and the printer has to run for a long time it can be a dangerous to leave it unattended.  So you can spend a long time watching the printing process.  Which is fun to start off with, but it soon gets really really dull.  This light bulb took about 3 hours to print.

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The final product:

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Over all we were quite impressed with the final product. It isn’t a bad representation.  I still don’t think we can call it a replica but it definitely looks like a lightbulb.

Once we had our printed objects, we did a couple of workshops in the Grant Museum and Sidmouth Museum, and talked to lots of people about 3D printing and whether creating new objects in this way can encourage a closer inspection and deeper understanding of historical museum objects.  Overall, all the visitors we spoke to were really interested in the process of 3D printing, many had heard of it, but had not seen or more importantly held a 3D printed object in real life.  But does 3D printing create a level of deeper engagement with the original museum object?  It certainly provoked visitors to look closely at the original and the 3D printed object, but I’m not sure if a deeper understanding of the historical objects was reached.  But there is definite potential there, which we want to explore in the future.

Despite the relative rough and ready approach, we really learnt a lot, and the process provoked a lot of questions about how museums are responding to 3D printing.

How hard is it to 3D scan a lightbulb? Part 1

Last year whilst curating the temporary Digital Frontiers exhibition in the brilliant Octagon gallery at UCL, both myself and Nick Booth (UCL curator of the science and engineering collections) became a bit obsessed with light bulbs.  From this slightly odd obsession, and thanks to a kind research grant from the Institute of Making, Nick and I get to play with light bulbs and call it research.

We’re looking at the process of materials and making using 3D scanning and printing to see if creating new objects encourages a closer inspection and deeper understanding of historical objects – in our case light bulbs.  Neither Nick nor I claim to experts in 3D scanning museum objects, we wanted to see what we could do with the bare minimum of training on the devices.  How easy is it for a relatively normal person to scan and print museum objects.

Firstly we played with 3D scanning.   In the next blog post I’ll talk about the process of 3D printing.

We wanted to look at different ways we could scan and create a 3D mesh of a light bulb.  We have tried two main ways of scanning, firstly using easily accessible and relatively cheap (in this case free) technology using 123D Catch and then having a go with a NextEngine.

123D Catch is a free application from Autodesk that enables you to take a series of photos and turn them into 3D models.  We used the handy iPhone app.  It works by taking multiple digital photos that have been shot around a stationary object and then submitting those photos to a cloud based server for processing.  The images are then stitched together to produce a 3D model.

NextEngine is a desktop 3D scanner which captures 3D objects in full colour with multi-laser precision.

We knew a light bulb wasn’t going to be easy to scan because scanners don’t tend to like transparent, shiny or mirrored objects.  But we thought we’d have a go anyway.

Scanning transparent objects in practice

Before we experimented with some of the historical science and engineering collection, we used a normal every day bulb to see what worked and didn’t.

Firstly 123D catch

And now NextEngine

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As you can see the fitting shows up pretty well, but the glass bulb itself really doesn’t work.  And 123D Catch has gone completely funny.  So after a bit of googling, tweeting and advice from the 3D pros at UCL we decided to try and disguise the transparency with talcum powder.

So here are the versions with talc.

123D catch

NextEngine

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Which amazingly worked!

After checking with conservation and we decided to cover the historical lightbulb in talc and try scanning that and here are the results:

123D catch

NextEngine

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The NextEngine scan is pretty good. It doesn’t quite capture the peak at the top of the bulb, but it isn’t a bad representation.  I don’t think we can quite call it a replica but it definitely looks like a lightbulb.

Obviously covering a hisitorical object in talc throws a lot of questions up about how museums could utilise 3D scanning if they have to cover delicate and fragile glass objects in powder to get a adequate scan. We’d be really interested to hear if anyone has found a more conservation friendly way of dealing with transparent objects without having to coat them in talc.

It also brings up questions about how accurate 3D representations of museum objects should be.  Should they be identical? Or is an approximate object acceptable?

PhD Acknowledgments

It’s been quiet on the blog front for some time, mostly due to the small matter of finishing my PhD. On Friday the 20th June 2014 I successfully completed my PhD viva and I can happily say that I passed with minor corrections!

It’s going to be a while yet before my thesis is available online, and there are far too many thankyou’s to fit into a tweet. So I thought I would share the acknowledgements section of my thesis.

Over the long course of completing this thesis, many people contributed to this research project in innumerable ways, and I am grateful to all of them.

I should like, first of all, to thank the Provost Strategic Development Fund (PSDF) for its support in funding this PhD, one of the first ever doctoral awards for the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities (UCLDH), and without it I would not have been able to undertake this research. My heartfelt gratitude goes to Professor Melissa Terras, my academic supervisor and an extraordinary mentor and friend, who has been a constant source of inspiration. Not only did Melissa’s understanding of my ideas around this research often exceed my own capability to articulate them, but her advice, support and nit-picking has managed to guide my sporadic thoughts into a scholarly work. Moreover, I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have Professor Claire Warwick as my second supervisor. I would like to thank Claire for her support during the undertaking of this research. I am thankful not only for her shrewd and insightful remarks but also for reminding me to believe in myself when things got too overwhelming.

Both Melissa and Claire also gave me the opportunity to learn important research and networking skills during my time on the Linksphere project and throughout my time at UCLDH which proved indispensable when carrying out my own work. Because of both of these fantastic mentors, I have developed the abilities and skills to question myself, my research, and to focus on achieving to the highest standard.

My case studies were possible only through the vital support and documentation provided by their host institutions, and I am especially indebted to the individuals within and outside those organisations who gave their time, advice and encouragement. I am grateful to all the museum staff and management at The Grant Museum of Zoology, Imperial War Museum London and Imperial War Museum North who offered information and hospitality while I was conducting my fieldwork and gathering data. At the Grant Museum I owe a particular debt to Jack Ashby, but would also like to thank Mark Carnall for his input and advice. This thesis could not be completed without the assistance of Carolyn Royston and Jeremy Ottenvanger from Imperial War Museums, and to Jane Audas and Tom Grinsted whose good humour and friendship got the Social Interpretation project off the ground.

I am especially indebted to the individuals within UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis who without whom QRator wouldn’t exist. A huge thank you goes to Steve Gray, for being the best developer I know and for sharing my eccentric sense of humour. Additional thanks go to Dr Andy Hudson Smith who provided me with helpful comments for my work as well as an external perspective which proved invaluable.

My great tower of strength throughout this research has been my friends and my family, who have given me love, help, and an important sense of perspective. Most of all, I thank my parents whose support and encouragement throughout has been never ending. Their words of wisdom and constant supply of love, support and reassurance has made me who I am today. Finally to my soon to be husband, Matt, whose patience and sacrifices so that I can complete this work have been vast. I would like to dedicate this thesis to him, my biggest critic, best friend, supporter and proof-reader and with whom this whole adventure began.

Bulb Banter: Museums bring out your bulbs!

Large Ediswan bulb UCL Museums
Large Ediswan bulb UCL Museums

Over the past 6 months I have been curating an exhibition in UCL Museums newest exhibition space, the Octagon.  The exhibition is all about digital technology and illustrates the power of emerging applications and poses questions about technology and culture in the past and in the present. Its been a brilliant experience and I have learnt so much.  During the process I have become a bit obsessed with Light Bulbs.

Light bulbs seem so mundane now, but have you actually stopped to think about how they work, the history behind them and had a close look?  They are really quite pretty and have a fascinating history! I might be a bit bias.

Bulb history the basics:

The invention of the light bulb is often credited to two men; Thomas Edison, from Ohio, USA and Joseph Swan, from the North East of England. In 1883 Edison and Swan went into partnership to form the Edison and Swan United Electric Company also known as Ediswan. The newly formed Ediswan started to sell incandescent light bulbs which became the industry standard.

Last night I shared my obsession with Light Bulbs at Museums Showoff and now loads of #bulbbanter is popping up.  I can’t really express how excited this is making me! Loads of Bulbs!!! Brilliant.

Here are some of the highlights from today:


Lightbulb lamp – Horniman Museum


Electric filament lamps made by Swan (left) and Edison (right), 1878-1879 – Science Museum 


Blackout Light Bulb – IWM 


Light Bulb – Museum of London

If you know of some interesting light bulbs in any museum collections or  happen across any brilliant bulbs, please let me know!

Installing the Octagon Exhibition – A professional curators perspective

I’ve been posting my personal experiences about the installation of the Digital Frontiers exhibition but here’s the installation process from another perspective.

Teaching and Research Curator Nick Booth has blogged his experience of installing the exhibition over on the UCL Museums and Collections Blog.

here’s a snippet from it:

One of my main challenges was that Claire (understandably) wanted to know as much information about the objects as we could provide. Not only when she was choosing her objects, but also for the labels that she has had to write for each one. In most of the Science and Engineering Collections our object records are literally a few lines in the database, and many things (such as the ‘big egg’ from the last exhibition) are completely unrecognised, by me anyway. This meant that while trying to help Claire pin down her ideas and decide how she would interpret them, I was also having to furiously learn about what we had in the collections. This is a very good thing from a curatorial point of view, but did mean I had to answer a lot with ‘let me get back to you’. However I do know an awful lot about light bulbs now!

You can read the rest of Nick’s post here.

SMKE workshop: Social Media and the Museum

SMKElogo-370x100Yesterday as part of the Social Media Knowledge Exchange project, UCLDH hosted  a workshop on  Social Media and the Museum.It was targeted specifically at doctoral students and early career researchers.

The general workshop theme: how Social Media is changing museum practice and visitor experience; and how Social Media can be integrated into museum exhibitions and events.

Its not news to most of us that museums are embracing social media and use it as a means to communicate and promote their activities, and also to interact and engage with their visitors.  A large number of museums now have a profile on social media sites to post news, promote their exhibitions & events, or disseminate their content; and also to  to interact with visitors by starting conversations, debates and organise participatory projects.   This in itself is brilliant.  But what is less well understood from an academic and a museum professional perspective is the key questions and challenges that are arising out of the use of social media.

Some of the key (well most obvious at least) questions the workshop tried to address were:

  • how do we engage visitors and encourage users of the collections to build an online community?
  • how do we start conversations with visitors in such a way that they feel that it is appropriate for non-experts to contribute?
  • how do we create a feeling of ownership of museum collections amongst the visitors and users?
  • What does this type of social engagement mean for the museum experience?
  • How do we evaluate the impact of social media?

These questions came up throughout the day, and naturally more questions came out of that than answers.

There was a range of talks by academic and museum professionals to discuss how Social Media is changing museum practice and visitor experience:

Social Media in the Humanities: Claire Warwick (UCL)

Claire spoke using social media as a different way to engage people with historical content. The focus of Claire’s talk was around the D-Day as it happens initiative led by Channel 4. Utilising Twitter as a different way of presenting oral history.  Suggesting that social media offers a sense of engagement which is very different to reading from history books. Providing a sense of immediacy. The personification of history.  Claire highlighted how social media allows contemporary voices to be heard, but it can also bring historical figures and events to life. Throughout her talk interesting questions were raised about physicality, immersive theatre and emotional engagement with historical events and how social media can be involved in all three.  In essence are historical figures tweeting in the social media space in the same genre as live interpretation in the museum space?

There has been a lot of discussion about what museums can learn from immersive theatre lately.  See Seb Chan’s post on Fresh & New(er) of 23 May 2012. “What if we made ‘wonderment’ our Key Performance Indicator?” and Ed Rodley’s post, http://exhibitdev.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/on-immersion-theatre-and-museums/  and Suse Cairns Rethinking why immersive theatre is compelling. It might not be the immersion after all and I think this is something which will need to be explored further.


Tweeting Moles? Social Media from the Grant Museum: Mark Carnall (Grant Museum)

Mark Carnall, curator from the Grant Museum spoke about their strategic use of social media.  Mark explained that Social media in the museum is a continually changing landscape and questioned how do/should/could museums manage this evolution.

The Grant Museum uses social media in 4 key ways:

  1. Twitter- transitory, irreverent, topical
  2. Facebook – badges and postcards
  3. Blogs- long form, publication, cv
  4. Flickr, YouTube and others – hosting tool.

Mark really hit home the need to think strategically. Museums shouldn’t use social media for social medias sake. There is a need to make time to fit social media into working practice.

Mark also raised some social media issues for museums to think about:

  • Is there an institutional format you should adopt?
  • Institutional buy in and support
  • Get image crediting right.
  • What voice will you use?
  • Dealing with the digital divide. Who is your audience? Social media doesn’t reach everyone. – in reality the people who aren’t using social media are people the museum most wants to reach
  • Sustainability: Social media in museums need to be sustainable and you need to be prepared for infrequently of returns because they aren’t always apparent instantly.

Mark also shared this brilliant infographic from informationisbeautiful.net: Hierarchy of digital distractions.

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Social media: worth the time for small museums?: Alex Smith (Islington Museum)

Alex Smith from Islington Museum gave a great example of how small museums can blog, tweet and use social media as a knowledge experience with limited time and budget highlighting the benefits as well as the reasons why small museums show become involved in social media activities.   Alex started by highlighting that the Islington Museum is constrained by council ICT strategy/guidelines and how council museums have to think outside the box to deal with this adequately.

Islington Museum use social media tools in the following ways:

  • Facebook
    • Events management system
    • Sharing Photos
    • Timeline – Ambitious use of Facebook timeline as a general historic timeline of objects and events relating to Islington Museum
    • Community engagement
    • Building brand identity
    • Twitter
      • Discus things that are happening now at the museum
      • Hashtags – the example of the Joe Orton Trial Reconstruction
      • Time management – hootsuite helps schedule and organise tweets
      • Conversations and praise –  Alex says the power of anecdotal evidence as well as statistics helps with convincing management.  Bite sized chunks from socmedia
      • Blogging
        • Example of the Sadlers Wells Theatre Archive blog
        • Found that visitors do interact
        • Important to get time management right
        • Historypin
          • New for the museum
          • Easy for people to use museum images
          • Builds a community of interest
          • Supports our current activities

Collecting Social Media as a museum object: Laura Lannin & Ellie Miles (Museum of London)

Ellie Miles and Larua Lannin from the Museum of London, gave a really interesting talk about the citizen curators project and what they have discovered about trying to collect social media as a museum object.  I attended an event at the Museum of London about collecting social media earlier in the year (My post on the Museum of London social media event: can a museum collect tweets & should it? ) so it was great to continue the conversation.

The Museum of London’s main aim is to be a contemporary collector of objects, events and ideas from and about the city of London, and because of this contemporary collecting policy they began to think about digital capture of events in London quite early on. They now have the experimental role of a digital curator which aims to develop fresh ways of collecting contemporary digital culture.

One of their projects is #citizencurators – a social networking project for London2012.  It’s a great  project and it has some really interesting research questions which you can see at http://t.co/g4NNg9zoMS

Production/consumption – museum social media in use: Daniel Pett (British Museum)

Daniel Pett (Portable Antiquities Scheme) gave a mesmerising talk about production and consumption of social media.  Dan’s key message was to ensure that any social media activity in museums needs to be relevant.  Important to have a social media museum strategy and to think about issues like:

  • Who is ultimately responsible for social media content
  • How do museums create interesting social media content? Who decides what is appropriate?
  • How seriously does the institution take social media channels – who are the advocates and for what?
  • Do you have institutional buy in?
  • Impact of social media in museums. can you measure interactions? Is the engagement meaningful? Are stats enough?
  • Multi-vocality. Everyone can have a voice. How do you deal with that?
  • Does anyone in your organisation already have useful social media skills, can you utilise them?
  • Adequate time management
  • Moderation
  • Who is the target audience?

Dan then went on to discuss consuming social media as code and gave some really useful ways that utilising the right code can make archiving and optimising social media a piece of cake.  Check out Dan’s google drive presentation for some great info on how to consume and produce social media using some simple coding.

The rest of the Social Media and the Museum session was a bit more hands on.  We went to see Jeremy Bentham and discussed Transcribe Bentham and the The Bentham Pop-up, which waspowered by QRator, and posed a set of Bentham-esq questions to visitors.  From there we went to have a look at my Digital Frontiers exhibition and asked question about the challenges and benefits of utilising all digital interpretation and social media inside a museum space.   Finally Mark Carnall led a great social media challenge and asked us to work in teams to come up with how we would respond to different social media comments from the public.  It really hit home some of the issues you have to think about when dealing with social media responses.

A really great day full of interesting discussions.