Scanning to Stun

Photo of a raw chicken egg on a black background.

Raw egg on a flatbed scanner. (Courtesy of Felice Frankel.)

Flatbed scanners are wonderfully handy things. They allow you to make digitized copies of print documents in seconds. They give old photos a new life as image files. They make sharing these things quick and easy.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could use scanners to make images of 3-D objects as well?

In fact, you can!

Thanks to Felice Frankel and her new OCW video series Making Science and Engineering Pictures, you can learn how to create images of objects that convey a real sense of three dimensions and are stunning in their extraordinary detail.

Felice Frankel is a science photographer and research scientist who works at MIT’s Center for Materials Science and Engineering  and departments of Chemical Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering. You’ve probably seen her photographs already in National Geographic, Nature, Science, Scientific American, and other journals and magazines, and perhaps in the books she has published.

Felice wants everyone to share in her understanding of how to use a high-resolution flatbed scanner to make finely detailed images—so finely detailed they rival the photographs she takes with an expensive camera.

In a series of four demonstration videos, followed by two how-to videos, Felice shows the tricks of this not-so-well-known trade.  A flatbed scanner has a single unadjustable light source that moves across the scanning plane in a single direction, so there’s no fussing with lighting to vary effects. The image-maker must use other methods to create engaging images.

What methods? Varying the position of the object, applying different backgrounds, directing the light from below or from above, even leaving the scanner cover open—all these things can produce very different artistic effects.

Using these methods, Felice shows how she has created high-resolution images of petri dishes, solar cells, microfluidic displays, watch gears, an agate, even a raw egg—images that can then be zoomed in on to show details at the level of 30 to 50 microns.

The videos in this OCW series are part of a more extensive online course in image-making that Felice plans to produce for MITx in 2015.

But why not get a head start now with this OCW resource!

— Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

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