Physics Colloquium

"Exploring cultural artifacts with X-rays and Neutrons"

Presented by Prof. Heinz-Eberhard Mahnke, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

Tuesday, February 14, 2023, 3:30 pm — Large Seminar Room, Bldg. 510

Abstract: When we see an artefact or piece of art for the first time, a painting, a jewel, a sculpture or merely a simple piece of pottery on display in an exhibition, we might be fascinated by its simplicity or by its beauty. However, many questions arise in connection with such items of cultural heritage on display, about its origin, its context, its provenance, its authenticity. Finding complete answers is a fully interdisciplinary task between art, humanities and natural sciences. With respect to the contribution from natural science, it often needs the application of just the best methods and techniques out of a multitude of possible options, and not just one, a whole bouquet of techniques is needed. Starting from simply viewing with or without a magnifying glass up to highly sophisticated and advanced techniques developed in atomic physics, nuclear physics and chemistry, such as they are available at large scale facilities like synchrotrons and neutron sources, in any case, the techniques used should be non-invasive and non-destructive.

In this lecture, the techniques using X-rays and neutrons will be explained. Recent developments and advances in the application to research on cultural heritage objects will be outlined, and similarities as well as complementarities of the various types of radiation will be illustrated. Examples range from e.g. revealing overpainted paintings, imaging of highly corroded objects from shipwrecks, mummies, accessing hidden texts on various folded or rolled material to recovering of damaged movie films using tomographic tools.

Hosted by: Igor Zaliznyak

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