The first sign of maturity is the discovery that the volume knob also turns to the left.
- 'Smile' Lingers
Stanford Scholars use x-rays to read hidden text in Archimedes manuscript
San Jose Mercury News
Thursday 3 August 2006, 2:13 pm
Keywords: News Articles
After more than 1,000 years in obscurity, the last unreadable pages of the works of mathematician Archimedes are being deciphered, thanks to the X-ray vision at Stanford University's Linear Accelerator Center.
Letter by letter, ancient Greek that was hidden for centuries by neglect, damage and abuse is being revealed by a powerful X-ray light emitted by the synchrotron at SLAC, then transmitted to computer screens for analysis by an international team of scholars.
The discovery is giving researchers the most complete record since the Middle Ages of the works of the legendary mathematician, who famously exclaimed "Eureka!" upon discovering how to measure volume while sitting in his bathtub.
Only faint outlines of Archimedes' words and diagrams can be seen by the unaided eye. First copied in 975 A.D. by a Christian monk onto goatskin parchment, the work has barely survived fire, water, acid, mold, wax, glue and even forgery.
But the synchrotron's X-ray is able to detect the iron in the ancient ink, causing it to fluoresce. In work guided by Stanford physicist Uwe Bergmann, the X-ray creates patterns of electronic signals, which are converted by computer into shades of gray, readily recognizable as Greek characters.
Preliminary interpretation of the text offers several new insights into the mind of Archimedes, who lived in the 3rd century B.C.
For instance, it suggests that he understood and set rules for infinity, previously considered a problem too difficult for ancient Greek mathematicians. It also contains a treatise on combinatorics, a field of problem-solving now used in computer science.