Scanning to Stun: Turn a Scanner into a 3D Tool

by Nancy DuVergne Smith on October 29, 2014 · 0 comments

in Design, Engineering

Felice Frankel, an extraordinary science photographer and MIT research scientist, is making an offer you should not refuse. Through OpenCourseWare (OCW), Frankel is offering to teach you how make exquisitely detailed digital images with a commonplace tool, the flatbed scanner.

Close-up of an agate taken with a high resolution scanner. Photo: Felice Frankel.

Close-up of an agate taken with a high resolution scanner. Photo: Felice Frankel.

In fact, she will teach you how to make 3D images in the OCW course, RES.10-001 Making Science and Engineering Pictures. And, of course, OCW is free.

Although Frankel uses highly technical equipment, she invites you to “start with the easy stuff”—using a flatbed scanner to make very fine images of 3D objects like microfluidic devices, agates, and the contents of petri dishes. Manipulations are experimental more than technical since scanners typically use a single unadjustable light source that moves across the scanning plane in a single direction.

“Most of this is about experimenting or, in a way, playing,” Frankel says. “The process, I hope, will become an act of discovery as it did for me when I made these images. You think of this process in a similar way as you do your own investigations. Using this scanner can … come close to imaging with a microscope if you make sure to capture your image at a high-enough resolution.”

Frankel, who works at MIT’s Center for Materials Science and Engineering and several MIT departments, has published her work in National Geographic, Nature, Science, and Scientific American. She is the author, most recently, of Visual Strategies: A Practical Guide to Graphics for Scientists and Engineers.

The OCW course includes four demonstration videos on the basics, such as dealing with reflected and transmitted light. Two other how-to tutorials work on digitally replacing a background and sharpening an image. The videos will be part of a more in-depth course to be offered via MITx in 2015.

Learn what else is new at OCW.

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