SLAC 'reads' ancient Archimedes text

Scientists at Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) have used a high-powered X-ray to read missing text in a 2,000-year-old document by the Greek scientist Archimedes.

Uwe Bergmann, Ph.D., who headed the project, said the scientists used a technique known as X-ray fluorescent imaging to identify iron traces hidden in the document.

Though about 25 percent of the original document had been covered over in gold forgery, Bergmann said he and his colleagues looked for iron because that was the main element in the original ink.

X-ray fluorescent imaging works by using a high-powered X-ray to knock electrons, usually in orbit around an atom's neutron, out of place. If the ray is powerful enough, it can knock out an electron orbiting close to the neutron. This causes one of the electrons in the outer shell to fall in toward the neutron, emitting a so-called "fluorescent'' beam of a frequency unique to the element.

The element-specific fluorescent beams register on a detector, which must be set to pick up a specific element,

Bergmann explained. The detector is tuned to read certain wavelengths that correspond to the energy inherent in the fluorescent rays.

"We are using extremely intense X-rays from our synchrotron, a particle accelerator that produces these intense X-rays,'' Bergmann said.

While scientists have been using this technique for several years, this is the first time it has been used to read a text. Thus far, it has been mainly used in medical applications such as looking for calcification in breast cancer tissue and looking at the distribution of metals in lung tissue.

"Basically it is a way to identify very small quantities of

elements,'' Bergmann said.

The text the scientists will read comes from a document written by Archimedes sometime before his death during the fall of Syracuse in 212 B.C., Bergmann said .

One of the two treatises in the so-called Palimpsest describes how Archimedes combined pure mathematics with his own physical intuition to calculate the center of gravity of objects. The other describes how he learned how to deal with infinite sums.

"You could call it a form of integral calculus, which is usually attributed to (Isaac) Newton,'' Bergmann said. "It is not an exaggeration to say (these theories) were 2,000 years ahead of their time.''

— Bay City News Service


There are no comments yet. Please share yours below.

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Choose a category: *

Since this is the first comment on this story a new topic will also be started in Town Square! Please choose a category that best describes this story.

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

Fu Lam Mum shutters temporarily in Mountain View
By Elena Kadvany | 6 comments | 3,652 views

How Does Silicon Valley’s Culture Affect Your Marriage?
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,087 views


Best Of Palo Alto ballot is here

It's time to decide what local business is worthy of the title "Best Of Palo Alto" — and you get to decide! Cast your ballot online. Voting ends May 29th. Stay tuned for the results in the July 21st issue of the Palo Alto Weekly.