Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Reading Between the Lines
A thin beam of X-rays scans the writings of the legendary Greek scientist and mathematician Archimedes, a hidden text that may be the most important ancient scientific document discovered since the Renaissance. As faint lines emerge on a large computer monitor at Stanford's Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory, I can just barely make out the ghostly image of the Greek letter lambda.

As a Webcast producer for the Exploratorium science museum in San Francisco, I have been documenting this experimental use of one of the most sophisticated tools of modern science, to decipher a 1,000-year-old book made of goatskin. Known as the Archimedes Palimpsest, dubbed Archie for short, it looks terribly fragile. The edges of most of the book's 174 pages are burned, and tears, holes and spots of purple mold dot their surface. The parchment is smaller than I thought it would be, not much larger than a hardback novel.