How a Particle Accelerator Is Helping to Unearth Long-Lost Pieces of Art

Oli Scarff, Getty Images
Oli Scarff, Getty Images

A particle accelerator is revealing the people in 150-year-old photographs whose features had been lost to time, Science News reports.

For the first time, Madalena Kozachuk, a Ph.D. candidate at Canada’s Western University, and a team of scientists used an accelerator called a synchrotron to scan daguerreotypes, an ancestor of modern photography.

before and after image of a damaged dagguereotype
Kozachuk et al. in Scientific Reports, 2018

Invented by French painter and physicist Louis Daguerre, daguerreotypes were popular from around the 1840s to the 1860s. They were created by exposing an iodized silver-coated copper plate to a camera (the iodine helped make the plate's surface light-sensitive). Subjects had to sit in front of the camera for 20 to 30 minutes to set the portrait, down from the eight hours it took before Daguerre perfected his method. Photographers could then develop and fix the image with a combination of mercury and table salt.

Because they’re made of metal, though, daguerreotypes are prone to tarnish. Scientists can sometimes recover historical daguerreotypes by analyzing samples taken from their surface, but such attempts are often both destructive and futile, Kozachuk wrote in a study published in Scientific Reports.

Kozachuk found that using a particle accelerator is a less invasive and more accurate method. While some scientists have used X-ray imaging machines to digitally scan other historical objects, such instruments are too large to scan daguerreotypes. Reading the subtle variations on a daguerreotype surface requires a micron-level beam that only a particle accelerator can currently produce. By tracing the pattern of mercury deposits in the tarnished plate, the researchers were able to reveal the obscured image and create a digital photo of what the daguerrotype looked like when it was first made.

before and after image of a recovered dagguereotype
Kozachuk et al. in Scientific Reports, 2018

“When the image became apparent, it was jaw-dropping,” Kozachuk told Science News. “I squealed when the first face popped up.”

Scanning one square centimeter of each 8-by-7 centimeter plate took about eight hours. The technique, though time-intensive, may allow museums and collectors to restore old daguerreotypes with minimal damage.

“The ability to recover lost images will enable museums to expand their understanding of daguerreotype collections, as severely degraded plates would not otherwise have been able to be studied or viewed by interested scholars,” Kozachuk wrote.

[h/t Science News]

Intense Staring Contest Between a Squirrel and a Bald Eagle Caught on Camera

iStock.com/StefanoVenturi
iStock.com/StefanoVenturi

Wildlife photographers have an eye for the majestic beauty of life on planet Earth, but they also know that nature has a silly side. This picture, captured by Maine photographer Roger Stevens Jr., shows a bald eagle and a gray squirrel locked in an epic staring match.

As WMTW Portland reports, the image has been shared more than 8000 times since Stevens posted it on his Facebook page. According to the post, the photo was taken behind a Rite Aid store in Lincoln, Maine. "I couldn't have made this up!!" Stevens wrote.

Bald eagles eat small rodents like squirrels, which is likely why the creatures were so interested in one another. But the staring contest didn't end with the bird getting his meal; after the photo was snapped, the squirrel escaped down a hole in the tree to safety.

What was a life-or-death moment for the animals made for an entertaining picture. The photograph has over 400 comments, with Facebook users praising the photographer's timing and the squirrel's apparent bravery.

Funny nature photos are common enough that there's an entire contest devoted to them. Here are some of past winners of the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.

[h/t WMTW]

What the World’s Oldest Metro Lines Look Like From Above

QuickQuid
QuickQuid

Those who take the subway to work would probably agree that it is neither an especially enjoyable experience nor very pleasant to look at. Things can seem a lot grittier and grimier underground, even when you happen to be in a perfectly charming city with reliable and speedy metro lines.

To give us a different perspective, a creative team commissioned by QuickQuid and an expert in urban planning and design joined up to create aerial images of some of the world’s oldest metro transit systems. The team traced metro lines onto aerial photos of six different cities, and the result is surprisingly beautiful and informative.

For the directionally challenged, it’s also a practical way of visualizing where exactly you are when you breeze through subway stops on your usual route home. “Part of the mystery of traveling underground is that most of us don’t really know where we are in relation to the surface when using the metro,” the team wrote on QuickQuid's website.

Six cities, in six countries total, are featured: Boston, Glasgow, Berlin, Tokyo, Moscow, and Mexico City. One of the more surprising aspects is just how much ground is covered. Moscow’s metro lines, for instance, cover 238 miles, making it one of the world's longest systems. Glasgow’s “Shoogly Train,” by contrast, has just 15 stations spanning 6.5 miles.

QuickQuid’s website has some interesting (and bizarre) information about the history of each metro transit system as well. “Before the underground opened in 1935, the first passenger train driver spent days practicing driving around the city with a Stalin-shaped dummy on board ahead of welcoming the Soviet leader ... as the metro’s first official passenger,” QuickQuid writes.

Scroll down to see all six aerial images, and check out QuickQuid’s website for more details.

Tokyo's metro map
QuickQuid

Berlin's subway map
QuickQuid

Glasgow's metro lines
QuickQuid

Mexico City's metro map
QuickQuid

Moscow's metro
QuickQuid

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