How a Massive Particle Accelerator Could Rewrite the History of the Printing Press
8:06

How a Massive Particle Accelerator Could Rewrite the History of the Printing Press

Science
Speaker 1: Here in my right hand, is something really incredible and really rare inside this book are pages from a Gutenberg Bible. They're over 500 years old, and pretty soon they're gonna be scanned by a very unique and powerful x-ray [00:00:30] imagine an x-ray so powerful that it can see into the past on an atomic level, uncovering the histories of some of the world's oldest artifacts, a 13th century printing of the Canterbury tales, a Korean Confucian text from the 15th century pages from an original Gutenberg Bible among several other [00:01:00] priceless historical documents. They've all come here. The slack national accelerator laboratory in Northern California to be scanned pixel by pixel by a powerful x-ray beam dinner than a human hair scientists hope they can help us better understand one of the most important inventions in human history, the printing press. But before we get into that, let's talk about a more modern invention. That's key to this research, the Stanford synchotron [00:01:30] radiation light source, or S S R L. This is a massive particle accelerator that helps scientists better understand our world on a molecular level. Speaker 2: Tron gives you a very bright and powerful light source, and it allows us in a shorter period of time to gather more information. Speaker 1: You may have seen my video on Slack's linear accelerator, the LCS I'll put the [00:02:00] link to that in the description, and don't forget to subscribe to CNET for more videos like that. Both the linear accelerator that I covered in that previous video and the sync Tron create x-rays by hurdling electrons down tunnels at incredible speeds. But while LCLs uses a two mile straight line to reach the fastest speeds possible, the sync Tron relies on a ring shape Speaker 2: Behind us, uh, is the, uh, booster ring. This is where the electrons are, are boosted up, speed, [00:02:30] a light. And then they're sent underneath us here into the Tron where they continue to go around speed a light and generate x-rays as they're going around the curves and come out on the beam line that we're gonna see Speaker 3: The energy tends to be much lower than the energy you'd get at an LCS or a linear accelerator. And because it's low energy, you can use those x-rays to study samples without destroying them Speaker 1: Samples [00:03:00] like a 500 year old priceless document. The x-rays help scientists determine a sample's elemental compositions. It's a technique called x-ray fluorescence imaging or XRF Speaker 3: When something fluoresces, it just means it sends light off the Atos in that sample admit light themselves. And we measure that light and then track which El, which elements those that light must have come from on the periodic table, the full data we can put together to make a visual map, an elemental [00:03:30] map of our sample, and we can filter it and say, okay, show me the copper. And now only the copper will appear on our picture of the sample. Speaker 1: This is precise work. Those elemental maps give scientists the ability to find nearly every element that exists on every single pixel. Researchers at SSL have used these maps to look for soft tissues and chemicals in this ancient arche optics, fossil commonly believe to be a link between birds and dinosaurs. [00:04:00] It also helped reveal a medical manuscript hidden behind a religious text on this sixth century parchment. And now scientists from around the globe thinks x-rays from the synchotron can give us a glimpse into the earliest days of printing. Johanna Gutenberg is commonly credited with the invention of the printing, press beginning with the Bibles. He printed around 1440 ad, but there's been emerging evidence that similar printing technology existed in east Asia as far back as 1250, Speaker 4: Abs, what [00:04:30] is not known is whether those two inventions were completely separate or whether there was an information flow. And if there was an information flow, it would've been of course, from Korea to the west to Gutenberg Speaker 1: To put it more plainly was Gutenberg's invention, at least in part based on Eastern technology, by scanning the Gutenberg and Confucian documents, scientists can piece together chemical fingerprints of the ink and paper per [00:05:00] take this scan from an 18th century Chinese document printed in Korea showing three different elements. The researchers ask me not to name the specific elements because they're not ready to make their data public. So I'll refer to them as elements. One, two, and three element. One can be seen all over the page in blue. The pinkish red is element two, and there are just traces of element three in green scientists can also look for trace metals that historical experts say should not be in the ink. Speaker 3: [00:05:30] And therefore probably came from pieces of the printing press itself. So that is, that is one of the very big goals is to see if we can find any traces of the printing press itself and to see how those presses were made. Um, for example, what the little interchangeable metal keys with each letter on them, the stamps, what those were made out of, um, how, how the ink was applied, how the paper was pressed down. Uh, we can get information like that depending on the concentration of [00:06:00] elements we find in the sample. Speaker 1: If they find similarities in the chemical compositions of the documents, it would contribute to ongoing research into the differences in printing technologies and whether there was an exchange of information from the east to the west. So what did they find? I caught up with the team a few weeks after my visit to slack, though, it's too soon to draw any conclusions. They told me they were surprised by the level of detail. They were able to collect from the documents. Speaker 5: We can see [00:06:30] clear elemental patterns, whether things are showing up in the characters or the papers or annotations. Um, we see very clear elemental signals. So this is really exciting. It means that we have a place to stand on. Um, we have data that we can sort through and potentially see if we, if we can actually pull information about what, what was inside these inks, Speaker 6: The scholars know what should be there and what shouldn't be there. We [00:07:00] had a few surprise elements that we saw that they did not expect. And now they're trying to figure out where did that? Where could that Speaker 1: Next up the team is designing experiments to test some of the hypotheses they've made based on the data they've gathered. Speaker 6: We are going to make ourselves some inks. We are going to make ourselves some types. We are going to make ourselves some paper. We have paper, we have actually Korean paper, we have Western paper and [00:07:30] we are going to reconstruct some of the early printing ourselves and see what it does Speaker 1: Once they're research is complete. The team will present their findings at the library of Congress in April. Next year. This is part of a broader research program led by UNESCO called from Chichi to Gutenberg. You can learn more at the program's website, I'll put the link in the description and let us know your thoughts on the experiment in the comments below.

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