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]

Turn Your Phone Into an Instant Camera With KODAK's New Handheld Printer

KODAK
KODAK

Instant cameras are all the rage, but when you're already carrying a high-end camera everywhere you go in the form of your smartphone, the idea of carrying around an extra gadget might seem like more work than it's worth. You don't have to choose between the convenience of your phone's camera and the fun of having a tangible memento. KODAK's new SMILE digital printer combines all the fun of using filters and image editing on your phone with the delight of having a printed copy of your photo.

Blue, green, black, red, and white KODAK SMILE printers printing photos
The KODAK SMILE line of instant digital printers
KODAK

The handheld Bluetooth printer—which is roughly the same size as KODAK's SMILE instant digital camera—lets you edit photos on your phone, then print your image instantly on 2-inch-by-3-inch sticker paper. Using the KODAK SMILE app, you can add Instagram-esque filters; rotate images and change contrast, brightness, and other characteristics; and add stickers, text, doodles, and borders.

Most uniquely, you can add augmented reality elements to your photos, so that when you (or someone else with the KODAK SMILE app) point the app at the physical print, the image is replaced by a short video clip. The effect is something like the moving photographs in Harry Potter—you can surprise your friends by asking them to view a photo through the app's AR function, then watch their delight as the still image begins to move.

The KODAK SMILE app
KODAK

KODAK sent Mental Floss both the SMILE instant camera and the SMILE printer to test, and while there's a lot of fun in snapping photos on an instant camera and accepting whatever weird flaws that photo might have (though you can do some light editing on the SMILE camera before printing), in our opinion, the breadth of image-editing features and convenience of being able to print photos you've already taken on your smartphone makes the digital printer the better option if you're trying to choose between the two.

This is especially true if you're going on vacation or trying to capture a night out on camera; it's just easier to whip out your phone rather than break out another camera, and it's easier to edit photos on your phone than to manipulate photos on the SMILE instant camera's small screen.

Blue, black, green, white, and red KODAK SMILE instant-print cameras
The KODAK SMILE line of instant-print digital cameras
KODAK

The SMILE printer is available on Amazon and Walmart for $100 and comes in five different colors: white, black, blue, green, and red. The SMILE instant-print digital camera is also $100 on Amazon and Walmart and is available in the same colors.

While the camera and the printer both come with a starter pack of sticker-backed ZINK photo paper, you can get 50 refill sheets for $24 when you run out.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

Here's the Best Way to See New York's Manhattanhenge Sunset

Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

New Yorkers are going to see a lot of people stopping to take pictures of the horizon in the coming days. Manhattanhenge, a term used to describe the two days of the year when the Sun sets in perfect alignment with Manhattan's east-west street grid, will be visible at 8:13 p.m. on May 29 (half-sun, the preferred view for photographers) and 8:12 p.m. May 30 (full sun). Here's a sample of what you can expect to see.

People taking pictures of Manhattanhenge
Mike Pont/Getty Images for S.Pellegrino Sparkling Natural Mineral Water

Manhattanhenge takes its name from the same phenomenon at Stonehenge, when the solstice Sun lines up perfectly with the large stones. To get the best view in the city, Dr. Jackie Faherty, an astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History, told The New York Times to stand as far east as you can and look west toward New Jersey. Cross streets that offer an ideal view include 14th, 23rd, 34th, 42nd, 57th, and 79th streets. She also recommends Gantry Plaza State Park in Queens as an option in a different borough.

A view of Manhattanhenge
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Can't make it to New York this week? Manhattanhenge will make another appearance on July 12 and July 13. If you want to know more about the phenomenon, the museum will be hosting a presentation by Faherty at Hayden Planetarium at 7 p.m. on July 11.

This story was updated in 2019.

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