Professor discovers new use for laser in art world
July 4, 2013
by Martha Waggoner
A U.S. professor who developed a laser to study melanoma has discovered a new use for it: uncovering what's underneath artwork without damaging the pieces.
Dr. Warren S. Warren was at the National Gallery in London, looking at an exhibit on art forgeries, when he realized that the art world used imaging technologies that were 30 or 40 years old. So he began investigating whether lasers could be used to safely uncover the mysteries underneath layers of paint.
So far, the answer is a qualified yes.
Warren and others in Duke University's Center for Molecular and Biomedical Imaging, which he leads, have found they can use Warren's pump-probe laser to create three-dimensional cross-sections of art that let researchers see colors and layers and maybe, at some point, discover the source of materials.
"It's showing some real promise, and that's exciting," said John Delaney, senior imaging scientist in the conservation division of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Delaney, who researches how to adapt noninvasive analytical imaging methods to help identify and map artists' materials, has seen the laser system at work.
The N.C. Museum of Art's 14th-century "Crucifixion" by Puccio Capanna was the first painting to get a pump-probe laser exam. It revealed a thick layer of lapis lazuli over Madonna's mantle, said William Brown, the museum's chief conservator. Typically, that blue is achieved with a layer of the less expensive azurite, covered with a thin layer of lapis, which was more expensive than gold at the time, he said.
"This tells us it was a really important painting," said Brown, adding that it could be part of an altarpiece at the Vatican.
Typically, an art conservationist uses a scalpel to remove tiny samples from a painting to learn more about both the painting and the materials used. That method damages the painting and is limited in where a conservationist can nick at the paint—corners and background, for example, and but not faces.
The pump-probe laser system provides a three-dimensional view of any part of a painting without taking a chip. Researchers can zoom in and out, like looking at a layer cake, and separate colors to see what was originally on the canvas.
"Through these techniques, you're also understanding the technology that went into the creation of these paintings," Brown said. "And you can chart the whole history of the world through technology and technology innovations. It affects the economy, it affects everything."
The laser system is attracting attention from other conservationists, including those who care for the Dead Sea Scrolls, Warren said. They want to know if the pump-probe can let them read what's in scrolls that are too fragile to unwind.
"Nothing has to be perfect," Delaney said. "We're looking for what can help us solve problems that we don't have a good way to solve now. And this shows some potential."
Traditional Swedish bonad paintings can contain toxic substances such as arsenic, reveals new research from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, in which painting conservator and conservation scientist Ingalill Nyström ...
Honda Motor announced that it has newly developed the "Honda Smart Ecological Paint (Honda S.E. Paint)" process, a highly-functional painting technology that eliminates a middle coating process from a commonly used 4-coat/3-bake ...
Scientists in Poland are describing how a medical imaging technique has taken on a second life in revealing forgery of an artist's signature and changes in inscriptions on paintings that are hundreds of years old. A report ...
In the latest achievement in efforts to see what may lie underneath the surface of great works of art, scientists today described the first use of an imaging technology like that used in airport whole-body security scanners ...
A unique app which allows you to peel back the layers of a masterpiece and uncover a previously hidden world has been developed by experts from Newcastle and Northumbria universities. The 'Repentir' smart phone and iPad app ...
(Phys.org)—For people whose blood does not clot appropriately, such as those with hemophilia, diabetes, or cancer, getting an injection or blood draw with a hypodermic needle is not a trivial matter. Because the needle ...
JILA physicists and colleagues have identified a long-missing piece in the puzzle of exactly how fossil fuel combustion contributes to air pollution and a warming climate. Performing chemistry experiments in a new way, they ...
Proteins often don't do anything in our cells by themselves. Their role in a given physiological process - good or bad - is typically determined by binding to one or more other proteins. So as researchers try to figure out ...
EPFL scientists have developed a new type of composite thread that varies in stiffness depending on its temperature. Applications range from multifunctional robots to knitted casts, and even tunable medical devices.
A team of researchers, led by the University of Minnesota, has invented a new soap molecule made from renewable sources that could dramatically reduce the number of chemicals in cleaning products and their impact on the environment.
Please sign in to add a comment.
Registration is free, and takes less than a minute.
Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.