Academic journal article The Science Teacher

T-Rays Reveal Hidden Art

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

T-Rays Reveal Hidden Art

Article excerpt


As x-rays let doctors see the bones beneath our skin, "t-rays" could let art historians see murals hidden beneath coats of plaster or paint in centuries-old buildings, University of Michigan (U-M) engineering researchers say.

T-rays, pulses of terahertz radiation, could also illuminate penciled sketches under paintings on canvas without harming the artwork, the researchers say. Current methods of imaging underdrawings cannot detect certain art materials, such as graphite or sanguine, a red chalk that some of the masters are believed to have used.

The team of researchers used terahertz imaging to detect colored paints and a graphite drawing of a butterfly through 4 mm of plaster. They believe their technique is capable of seeing even deeper. The research is published in Optics Communications.

"It is ideal that the method of evaluation for historical artifacts, such as frescoes and mural paintings, which are typically an inherent part of a building's infrastructure, be nondestructive, noninvasive, precise, and applicable on site," says John Whitaker, an author of the paper and a research scientist and adjunct professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at U-M. "Current technologies may satisfy one or more of these requirements, but we believe our new technique can satisfy all of them."

Terahertz imaging can reveal depth and detail that other techniques cannot, Whitaker says. It is not potentially harmful like x-ray imaging because terahertz radiation is nonionizing; t-rays do not have enough energy to knock electrons off atoms, forming charged particles and causing damage. While terahertz radiation is all around us in nature, it has been difficult to produce in a lab because it falls between the capabilities of electronic devices and lasers. …

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