Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How a New Technology Can Help Researchers Read Closed Books

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How a New Technology Can Help Researchers Read Closed Books

Article excerpt

There's no excuse to judge an old book solely by its cover anymore, thanks to a new technology that can uncover text even when it's hidden in the pages of a closed binding.

Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, in collaboration with others at Georgia Institute of Technology, have developed an imaging system that can read through stacked pages, according to a press release. Such a technology would allow historians to sift through antique books or documents with pages too delicate to turn, giving them the opportunity to uncover important historical information without risking the original artifact.

"There's really no limitations on what kind of documents this can be used," Barmak Heshmat, a research scientist who worked on the project at the MIT Media Lab, tells The Christian Science Monitor.

Dr. Heshmat and his colleagues published their research in the open-access journal Nature Communications Friday.

The imaging system uses a form of electromagnetic radiation known as terahertz radiation to separate the blank spaces on a paper from those covered in ink - a precise task that X-rays are unable to complete with the same dexterity. In the study, researchers used a terahertz camera to fire short bursts of radiation at the stacked papers. When the beams reflected back to the camera, it detected the forms of letters on the individual sheets, which are then read by an algorithm capable of distinguishing the letters that can appear distorted.

So far, the algorithm can determine the distance between the camera and the top 20 pages in a stack, but can only decipher the letters on the first nine, as further depths tend to block a strong reflection of the energy.

Dr. Heshmat says The Metropolitan Museum in New York has expressed interest in the new technology, hoping to one day use it to read historic books and documents they could never actually touch. …

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