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Michael Raphael


3-D Scanning Used to Recreate 100-Year-Old Darwin Bust

Imaging technologies facilitate physical to digital to physical transformations

Published: Wednesday, December 9, 2009 - 06:00

The year 2009 contains two significant anniversaries within the scientific community: the bicentennial of Charles Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his groundbreaking book On the Origin of Species. To honor these milestones, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) commissioned the reproduction of a rare bronze bust of Charles Darwin located in New York City for display at their facility in Washington, D.C. For this challenging task, they contracted John Milner Associates for project management and Direct Dimensions Inc. (DDI) for the technical effort.

The original sculpture was fabricated more than a hundred years ago by the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS) to mark the 100th and 50th anniversaries of Darwin’s birth and publication of his famous book, respectively. Darwin was then, and probably still is, considered one of their most famous members. Though Darwin had already passed away in 1882, sculptor William Couper used rare photographs to aid in the creation of his very lifelike bronze bust.

The original sculpture resides today in the NYAS office at 7 World Trade Center and is a highly valued museum-quality piece. While the organization was more than willing to allow for the recreation by the NAS, they were not willing to let the rare piece out of their facility where it could be damaged during the mold-making process or during shipping. Thus, to recreate the bust without movement, or in fact, any direct physical contact, the NAS contracted John Milner Associates (JMA), a firm that specializes in historic preservation services, to manage this effort.

The JMA team proposed a combination of 3-D laser scanning and computer-controlled machining. Laser scanning could make the digital copy of the bust on-site at the New York office with no physical contact other than a beam of light. Computerized machining could then use this 3-D digital data to mill the copy into an exact physical form. The milling is then used as a pattern to cast the new bronze reproduction.

JMA and DDI have worked together for several years on numerous projects involving 3-D scanning for historic preservation.

Examples of their colaboration can be found by following these links:

Corocoran Gallery
Fort Pike
Richmond Monument

Earlier this year, DDI technicians Peter Kennedy and Jason Page drove to the NYAS office where they spent the day scanning the original bronze sculpture using a laser line scanner mounted on a Faro Arm. This equipment captured the exact shape and contours to an accuracy of about a tenth of a millimeter. Then back in Baltimore over the next few days, the DDI team used Innovmetric’s PolyWorks Modeler software to process the raw laser data into the 3-D digital replica.

The final model, completed in “watertight” STL format, was used in the milling process to create the physical copy of the bust. In addition, this digital data can also be used to visualize the famous Darwin bust in 3-D across the internet and to make digital renderings of the piece.

To complete the reproduction process, the milled foam copy, or pattern, was hand-finished by an artist and sent to an art foundry where it was cast in bronze using techniques similar to those used to create the original over 100 years ago.

The final reproduction of the Darwin bronze bust was unveiled in early 2009 at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington in honor of Darwin’s 200th birthday; Nov. 24, 2009 was the 150th anniversary of the publication of his book, On the Origin of Species.

Visit the National Academy of Sciences web site for more information.


About The Author

Michael Raphael’s picture

Michael Raphael

Michael Raphael is founder and president of Direct Dimensions Inc., a Baltimore-based company offering a full range of 3-D imaging services including reverse engineering, dimensional inspection, and 3-D scanning. Direct Dimensions has been providing solutions for a wide range of fields from manufacturing, engineering, and design to art, sculpture, and architecture for nearly 15 years.