In 2018, the museum approached us about the idea of scanning a set of objects for the upcoming galleries and we gladly accepted. Using photogrammetry we made a number of the 3D models in the final set. So let’s talk a little about the project and the awesome objects we were tasked with scanning!
The new Medicine Galleries include three thousand objects and showcase some truly amazing medical items. They’re all about ‘exploring our relationship with medicine and health through more than 500 years of history’ and include the world’s first MRI scanner and Alexander Fleming’s penicillin mould!
We’ve created over 20 commissions now, and many of them have included 3D digitisation as a service. This was a little different because the resulting models were to be viewed digitally (and not printed), but we still used the same photogrammetry techniques.
We worked closely with Digital Learning Producers Emilia McKenzie and Josh Blair, whittling down a list of possible objects from the Medicine collection based on their ‘scan-ability’. We looked at material, reflectivity, and size while Josh and Emilia came at it from strength of curriculum links.
Seeing images of the objects in advance really helps with that initial selection, but seeing an object in the flesh is even better, so it was useful to arrange a site visit at Blythe House to preview the objects. There are two major steps to making 3D models: Photogrammetric capture, and making the digital models.
We set our gear up in a corner of the stores and did image capture over two weeks, averaging about 3 objects per day. The chosen objects varied massively in size and complexity from a large wooden 18th century barber-surgeon’s chair, to a box of matches, to a cast iron baby-weighing scale.
It was great to get up close with the objects and be surrounded by so many other wondrous artefacts in the Blythe House stores. We love going behind the scenes at different museums, in fact it’s a large part of why we started the company in the first place, so visiting was a real treat for us!
Making the digital models
Having captured high-res images of all the artefacts we began the job of processing them into models using Agisoft’s Photoscan (now Metashape). A couple of the objects proved challenging owing to their complexity. Manufactured objects are usually more complicated then sculptural/hand-made things, so our models of sculptures tend to be quite forgiving as they’re one mass, whereas machine-made objects like the baby weighing scales or carbolic sprayer are not.
With their uniform metallic parts like nuts and bolts and pressed sheet metal failing to mesh well, areas of the models looked a bit “crunchy”. Accuracy was key for these objects as the detail helped explain their function.
To solve this we recreated the object topology and remodelled several of the objects using the exported meshes of the original scans, and the photos as additional reference. After remodelling the objects to a suitably detailed level we could then import those to Metashape again for retexturing. The result is a neat model that represented the original and load quickly online.
The new 3D models
We produced 13 models which you can see on the museum’s Sketchfab page. Our favourites include
- the leeches jar (which now features some gruesome animated leeches too),
- the carbolic steam sprayer, and
- the statue of Saint Adrian which, with his guts hanging out, is darn right ghastly!
The Science Museum has developed tons of online classroom resources for teachers and educators as part of the project, using 3D models as the base. It’s a great way to introduce object-based learning into the classroom and to help fuel a student’s curiosity. The resources can be browsed through different fields including key stage, curriculum links, and subject.
Emilia and Josh also worked on providing useful supporting material as well such as scale (which is often overlooked with 3D models). There are also loads of discussion prompt questions like is it OK to exploit or harm animals to make humans better?
At Museum in a Box we’re obviously massive advocates for object-based learning! Mostly because objects are a great way to prompt questions, stimulate discussion and improve people’s critical thinking. What’s more, having a digital model or 3D print means you can move the object around and view it from all angles, something that’s just not possible with objects in a gallery setting.
Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries
We’re proud to have made a small contribution to the brand new Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries space at the Science Museum. It’s brilliant!
We were delighted to work on this digitisation project and play a part in growing the museum’s offering of digital resources. The Education team were great to work with and the outcome is a really well rounded set of resources that encapsulate the spirit of the new galleries perfectly!