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Other museums have already started digitizing artworks or making 3D scans of sculptures. In New York, digital guru Sree Sreenivasan was hired this year as the first chief digital officer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Smithsonian officials said they are making a unique push into scanning a wide variety of 3D objects, ranging from an ancient whale fossil found in Chile to a 3D image of a supernova in space.

Some of the latest 3D technology also could transform the experience of visiting a museum. The Smithsonian is experimenting with new projections of augmented reality with 3D imagery to help bring dinosaurs or historical figures to life in an exhibit.

“Wouldn’t it be great to have Abraham Lincoln walking around talking to people?” Clough said. “It can be done.”

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Smithsonian 3D Program: http://3d.si.edu/