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Students help in 3-D mission archive

A horrific incident a world away is inspiring a group of students here at home.

It happened 12 years ago when the Taliban destroyed the Buddahs of Afghanistan.

That act of intolerance helped push Santa Ynez Valley Union High School to take on a remarkable task: help archive the missions of California.

The sandstone sculptures dated as far back as 507 A.D.

Fast forward to a new 3-D technology called “Lidar.”

“It’s essentially using lasers to determine range.” Teacher Chip Fenenga explains. “It sends a laser beam out, measures distance and we can apply photos to it to create a 3-d model of any structure we like.”

Santa Ynez High is the only school in the world to have it.

A company called CyArk in the Bay Area created the device, thanks to a wealthy Iranian architect and engineer, outraged by what the Taliban did.

Students in Fenega’s class are making a 3-D model of the Santa Ines Mission — every inch of it — from the exterior facade to the interior niches and wooden beams.

“The inside is going to be killer,” said 12th-grader Ryan Fischer. “The windows are their own little rooms. We’ll have to scan, scoot over, scan the window, scoot over.”

Back on campus, Fischer and classmate Alyssa Beamer download the scanning information onto a classroom computer.

The students explain that every single dot on the screen is a laser point, millions of them, to create a 3-D model you can fly through.

“If there was a natural disaster like an earthquake and the whole place fell down, these scans would be used to rebuild it again,” said Fischer. “It would be accurate to under a millimeter so it would be exactly as it was. Neat to be a part of it.”

The technology may help the students earn a paycheck some day.

“I’m going into engineering next year, said Beamer. ” I feel this technology would be helpful like manufacturing or sizing parts and being able to see if those parts fit together properly.”

Fenenga says he doesn’t know who will be more excited about this project, the students or him. Or, the rest of the world once they see California’s missions in 3-D.

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