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Making Technology Work for the Museum: Using Machines to Cut Ethafoam Storage Containers

Project by Meredith Blair Martin (2017)

Museums have been hand-carving Ethafoam for storage containers since this became the standard for best practices in the 1970’s. Not much has changed since then despite the adaptation of technology for the museum field. This project was the result of three-dimensional digitization projects at the Burke Museum and their need to have unhoused artifacts in storage containers before the move to a new facility in 2019. At the beginning of this project, 3D scans of artifacts were used to create 3D prints for a display piece in the new Burke Museum. Using this scanned data, the goal of this project is to create a way for a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) Machine to cut the Ethafoam, used for artifact storage, into a custom fit housing for each object. The intricate nature of the scanner, allows for storage solutions to be carved with a level of detail museum workers cannot achieve. The result is the finished storage solution for museum artifacts. At the end of this project housing solutions for the originally selected artifacts have not been created, but proof of concept has been established with complete housings for control objects. In addition to proof of concept an instruction manual was produced for the Burke Museum so that future quarters of students could continue with this project within the Mammoth Project. This project will facilitate the ability for museums to create storage solutions for unhoused artifacts more quickly than carving them by hand and the instruction manual will give other museums a guide on how to begin.

Keywords: Class of 2017, museum, museum studies, museology, project, technology, 3D printing, natural history museums


Martin, M. (2017). Making Technology Work for the Museum: Using 3D Scan Data to cut Ethafoam Storage Containers. Unpublished master’s project, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington.