Diamond Light Source Illuminates Manuscripts

Diamond Light Source, a remarkable new research facility located in Oxfordshire, England, is now being used as a reading light. A reading light so powerful that scientists will be able to read books without even opening them.

The Diamond Light Source produces synchrotron radiation by accelerating electrons at a speed close to that of light. The speeding particles give off a characteristic radiation at wavelengths ranging from X-rays to far infrared. This synchrotron light can be used to examine the internal structure of objects.

(Diamond Light Source facility and demonstration video)

A team of scientists from the University of Cardiff have found a novel use for this intense light; they hope to read books and manuscripts that are damaged and cannot be opened. They initially used X-ray tomography to create a three-dimensional image of a rolled-up scroll. Computers were used to separate the image into the different layers of the parchment; the program essentially "unrolled" the image of the scroll. The synchrotron radiation should provide the capability of penetrating many layers of scrolls and book manuscripts that have been damaged or are too fragile to open.

Science fiction fans read about this idea thirty years ago. In his wonderful first novel Inherit the Stars, James P. Hogan wrote about something he called a "Trimagniscope:"

The scope was adjusted to generate a view that followed the change in density along the boundary layer of the selected page, producing an image of the lower section of the book only; it was as if the upper part had been removed, like a cut deck of cards... (Read more about the Trimagniscope)

The Trimagniscope went one step further than the plans for the Diamond Source Light synchrotron; it used pattern recognition techniques to decipher the manuscript as well.

Via BBC; read more about the Diamond Light Source at their website. Special thanks to Andrew Byro, who remembered the book and noticed the story.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 9/13/2007)

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