Women on Sketchfab: Samantha Porter

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Background

My name is Samantha Porter. I’m an archaeologist by training. When I started in the field roughly ten years ago 3D scanning was beginning to take hold, but tended to be very expensive and time consuming. By the time I started graduate school things were slowly becoming more accessible. My first artifact scans were done with a NextEngine laser scanner. I really became interested in the possibilities of 3D when I started teaching myself photogrammetry. Now, I help run the Advanced Imaging Service for Objects and Spaces at the University of Minnesota. This has given me the opportunity to experiment with many different types of 3D capture, from aerial photogrammetry, to structured light scanning, to terrestrial LiDAR.

Focus / approach

3D scanning has become an essential part of my archaeological research. The artifacts I study are mostly housed in institutions in Europe, while I’m based in the United States. I can’t take artifacts home with me, but I can access 3D scans wherever I go. This gives me the ability to test new hypotheses without having to travel back and forth across the Atlantic. You can also make observations and measurements on a 3D model that are difficult or impossible using traditional methods. These range from relatively simple angle measurements, to multivariate statistical analyses of shape.

Left: angle measurements being taken on a model of a stone core. Right: the shape of an artifact cross section being characterized in statistical software.

In addition, it’s important to remember that archaeology is a destructive science. You can only excavate a site once, so thorough documentation of a dig is essential. 3D scans of sites allow us to create a wealth of contextual data that can aid future research.

3D scans can also be useful tools for outreach. For example, a group I’ve worked with called Science and Social Studies Adventures uses 3D prints to teach middle school students how people in the past made stone tools. The prints have magnets in them, so they can easily be taken apart and put back together. Since they’re dull and made of plastic, we don’t need to worry about students hurting artifacts or themselves! If you’d like to print your own stone tools, send our lab an email at aisos@umn.edu and we’d be happy to pass along our model files.

Experimentally produced stone tools with 3D printed copies.

I think the democratization of science is really important. That’s one reason techniques like photogrammetry are so exciting. A large part of my research has focused on developing ways to produce research quality 3D scans without breaking the bank.

I also like to scan things for fun! I’ve made a habit of making models of interesting things I encounter on my travels. It lets me take home a sort of digital souvenir, and gives me a chance to practice my technique.

Challenges

When I got into 3D scanning, and photogrammetry in particular, there wasn’t really anyone around me to learn from. I had to do a lot of experimenting myself. In addition, I’ve found that once you’ve immersed yourself in this world, it can be a slippery slope. You want to start doing everything from 3D modeling and animation, to flying drones. It can feel a bit daunting. Thankfully, a really amazing community of practice has developed around these technologies that supports both beginners and experts. There are a ton of resources available online (many of them free!) that you can use to get started, or learn a new skill.

Why Sketchfab?

3D models allow users to interact and engage with objects and spaces in ways that simply cannot be matched by traditional, static, 2D images. Sketchfab is an incredible platform because it makes it possible to share 3D models not just with colleagues, but with anyone in the world who might be interested. Also, professional looking visuals are essential to good science communication. Sketchfab’s built-in lighting and material tools make it easy to ensure models look their best.

Personal website / AISOS Website

About the author

Samantha Porter

Samantha Porter is a digital preservation specialist with Liberal Arts Technologies and Innovation Services at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. She is also a PhD candidate in Anthropology specializing in Paleolithic stone tool technology.


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