X-ray technique peers beneath surfaces of artefacts

March 26th, 2011 - 5:31 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, March 24 (ANI): Researchers say that striking discoveries in archaeology are being made possible by strong beams of X-rays.

A report showed how X-ray sources known as synchrotrons could unravel an artefact’s mysteries.

Light given off after an X-ray blast yields a neat list of the atoms within, reports the BBC.

The technique can illuminate layers of pigment beneath the surfaces of artefacts, or even show the traces of tools used thousands of years ago.

This X-ray fluorescence or XRF works by measuring the after-effects of X-ray illumination.As atoms absorb the X-rays, the rays’ energy is redistributed, and very rarely some is re-emitted as light.

Each atom releases a characteristic colour of light, yielding a full chemical analysis, and as such the XRF technique is gaining ground as a means to meticulously analyse artefacts from the past.

Small X-ray sources have been used in the past to get a laundry list of atoms generally present in art, but Robert Thorne of Cornell University in the US told that the intense, focused X-rays from enormous sources known as synchrotrons have more recently shown their potential.

“These give you extremely intense X-ray beams, and what that allows you to do is not just collect a spectrum from one point, but you can ‘raster scan’ your sample in front of the beam and collect the full chemical analysis at each point.”

Compared to handheld sources, he said, “you can get months’ worth of photons delivered in a second, and that’s critical”.

Professor Thorne and his collaborators were in 2005 the first to use the technique to analyse inscriptions from Greek and Roman pottery.

The report was shown at the American Physical Society meeting in Dallas, US. (ANI)

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