Posted by Adam Wills
Dead Sea Scrolls scholar Bruce Zuckerman, a USC religion and linguistics professor, is using reflectance transformation imaging (RTI) to examine Dead Sea Scroll fragments. According to a recent article in the New Jersey Jewish Standard, Zuckerman is hoping to take his tech to Fort Worth, Texas later this month to record a fragment collection.
Last August, Zuckerman and other West Semitic Research Project (WSRP) members took their advanced imaging methods to a Syrian Orthodox church in Teaneck, N.J., where they photographed scroll fragments that have been locked inside the church’s vault since 1949, two years after the discovery of the scrolls in a Judaean desert cave.
While the primary aim of the project is to ensure the conservation of the fragments, the team is also getting to see the scrolls in an all new light, revealing details about its origins.
Inside his office at USC, Zuckerman, professor of religion and linguistics, pulled up some of the New Jersey Dead Sea Scrolls images on his computer screen. Written in carbon-based ink on parchment (possibly from a goat), many of the ancient Hebrew letters were indecipherable in conventional photos.
At his computer, Zuckerman examined a high-resolution image with Marilyn Lundberg, associate director of WSRP. Lundberg’s husband, John Melzian, along with Kenneth Zuckerman built the equipment enabling them to apply the cutting-edge photographic methods, originally developed by the Hewlett-Packard Company.
“Technology like this has never been used on the Dead Sea Scrolls until now,” Bruce Zuckerman said. “This New Jersey project was the first [in which] we were able to apply our method to such large fragments.”
Founded in the early 1980s by Zuckerman and his brother, Kenneth, WSRP was the first to use polynomial texture mapping (PTM) to photograph the Dead Sea Scrolls, in addition to the standard practice of taking color and infrared images. The PTM technology uses the data from images taken at many different light angles to show the texture of the fragments’ surface.
Examining one fragment, part of a liturgical prayer, the pair spotted a tiny fleck on the first character in the word Adonai (Lord). They wondered whether the dot was parchment over the character, or a tiny hole scraped off the ink. Because the image had been photographed from every conceivable angle, the computer software program allowed them to see the fragment in many combinations of light and shadow. A click of the mouse on an image acted like a flashlight, revealing the tiniest of details.
Shining their virtual “flashlight” on the character, examining the texture of the skin, they concluded that a tiny bit of ink had flecked off the surface. At closer inspection, it also appeared the scribe had slightly messed up the ink stroke and made a correction.
“This technology gives us more information than we ever thought was possible,” Zuckerman said, adding that his students are also using the method to analyze the scrolls. “The information about the skin and the ink was unexpected. This gives us great hope for research of the future.”
Several offices in USC’s Ahmanson Center are filled with the futuristic-looking machinery Zuckerman’s team has created and uses to photograph ancient inscriptions. One contraption, dubbed the Twister, takes photos of an object perched on a turntable that revolves 360 degrees. Two other apparatuses nicknamed the Big Dome and Little Dome look like large black top hats adorned with red, white and blue wires. When artifacts are placed inside, photos are taken with light-emitting diodes (LEDs) staged in various angles.
Another room holds the Tarantula, a bigger, more powerful version of the domes with elements of the Twister. Lights are affixed throughout the seven-by-six foot gizmo. While lights turn on in succession, a camera shoots photos of an object balanced on a revolving turntable in the center.
“This is humanities enabled by science, by technology,” Zuckerman said. “As technology evolves, the line between humanities and science will continue to blur.”
Referring to the research that came out of New Jersey, Zuckerman told the New Jersey Jewish Standard, “We were very pleased; it was a complete surprise”:
The aim was to get a detailed picture of the texture of the skin of the scroll in order to gauge its condition primarily for purposes of conservation. Zuckerman also thought he might learn more about the hair follicle patterns on the skin.
Pointing out that every skin is unique, “like a fingerprint,” Zuckerman said he hoped the technique might tell his team what kind of animal was used for the scrolls and would allow them to match fragments based on common patterns of follicles.
Shooting a series of 32 images at different light angles—later combining them into a master image allowing him to move the light around—Zuckerman found that he could see the skin patterns very clearly.
But even more, after enhancing the reflectivity of the surface, “we realized we could see the thicknesses of the ink strokes on top of the skin. In fact, we could even see the thicknesses of individual ink strokes and see which were made first, second, third.”
This has significant implications for paleography, he said. Scholars traditionally have looked at the overall shape of the letters when studying ancient scripts. With RTI they can see much more, offering tantalizing new possibilities for the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
One expert in the field has suggested that more than 50 of the scrolls were written by the same scribe, Zuckerman said.
“She looked at them and evaluated them by eye, but if we could get RTI images of these texts, we would have better empirical evidence to guide and test this kind of expert opinion,” he said.
“It got us all very excited,” he added, noting that his Teaneck team included longtime colleague and West Semitic Research Project associate director Marilyn Lundberg, Yeshiva University history professor Steven Fine and Zuckerman’s brother Kenneth, a technical photographer with some 30 years experience photographing ancient texts, whom he credits with developing many of the techniques used by West Semitic.
Zuckerman said he has done some work with Dead Sea Scroll fragments at Azusa Pacific University in California and hopes by the end of this month to have begun work on a collection in Fort Worth, Texas.
He said he has just begun to test the combination of RTI and infrared imaging. While the latter has proved effective with scrolls, “no one has ever applied both together. We’ve adapted a camera that will allow us to do that.”
Whether his new technology will change the face of scholarship still remains to be determined, said Zuckerman.
“But I am confident that it will change things, that we will have a level and quality of information that we didn’t have before,” he said. “How that plays out in terms of what we learn, I don’t know. We have to take this step by step and see how it goes.”
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July 12, 2010 | 8:10 pm
Posted by Adam Wills
Israeli start-up Pythagoras Solar has developed a nearly transparent but fully solar glass that can be used as an energy-efficient skylight, producing 13 watts of electricity per square foot, much like regular solar panels, Susan Kraemer reports:
This makes it particularly suitable for single storey strip malls, now typically lit by ugly fluorescent strips. A skylight positioned to center over each store on a single story commercial building, would bring much needed daylight into a cavernous space, while producing enough energy to supply the store some or all of its electricity as well.
The dual use is achieved with optics on the surface that filter light to let daylight through, while mirrors reflect light onto solar cells. Typical commercial insulated glass units have two panes of glass, placed about one inch apart and held in a metal frame, which are coated with a film to block out heat from the sun.
Pythagoras Solar’s glass unit also uses two panes but the glass unit is made of several tiles, each of which has a solar cell to generate electricity with traditional and extremely efficient monocrystalline silicon cells from Chinese partner China Sunergy.
Pythagoras Solar’s first product, due in the third quarter this year, will be a skylight but the company also plans to make curtain walls for new buildings. Payback is looking like about five years, but of course each case is different as it depends on the regional cost of the utility electricity that it would replace.
The company boasts some outside-the-box thinkers. Chief Technical Officer Itay Baruchi is a physicist whose work on biological memory – a key to eventually producing neuro-memory chips – was cited by Scientific American as one of the 50 most significant scientific breakthroughs in 2007.
CEO and co-founder Gonen Fink, with a B.Sc in physics and computer science, was vice-president of R&D of the Israeli Internet security company that invented the firewall (Check Point), and is a graduate of one of the IDF’s elite IT units. (But he also found time to do an M.A. in philosophy – that may be behind the name Pythagoras.)
Their unusual IT background has resulted in an interdisciplinary breakthrough configuration that combines existing technologies, such as the traditional cells, and multilayer glass for efficiency, and traditional concentrating solar technology (but employed at the miniature level within the glass) rather than trying any one entirely new technology.
“Our approach is based on proven technology and existing form factors more than some of the new systems, but we use innovation in optics, semiconductor and mass manufacturing processes to significantly reduce the cost of materials being consumed,” is how CEO Gonen Fink describes it.—[CleanTechnia.com]
July 9, 2010 | 2:19 pm
Posted by Mikaela Gilbert-Lurie
Not so Clueless anymore! Alicia Silverstone, actress, author and PETA spokesperson, is doing her part to earn her title as an animal rights activist. Workers at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, centered in Long Island, were the recipients of a phone message from Silverstone, trying to dissuade them from electing to take on a “really cruel project” sponsored by NASA. The venture would require that 30 squirrel monkeys be inundated with a potentially lethal dose of gamma radiation, in order to recreate an environment like that which an astronaut would experience on a single round trip journey to Mars. NASA has supposedly pledged up to 1.75 million dollars of tax payer money to allow the project to go forward.
Here is Alicia’s message (received by an estimated 1,000 workers) from longisland.about.com:
Hi, this is Alicia Silverstone. I’m sure that you were as disturbed as I was to learn that Brookhaven is considering blasting monkeys with radiation in a really cruel project funded by NASA. These bright but scared to death animals will be locked up for life and may suffer from brain damage, cancer, and blindness before dying in their barren steel cages.
Brookhaven’s reputation as a cutting-edge scientific organization is ruined if this cruel study happens. NASA’s European counterpart—the European Space Agency—has publicly condemned such experiments on monkeys.
At the end of the day, both parties appear well intentioned, although I have had a tendency to think PETA is somewhat of a joke after they got up in arms about President Obama swatting a fly on national television. It was a fly, relax! Monkeys are a different story though. However it turns out, I will stand by one thing indefinitely: Clueless was an amazing movie.
July 8, 2010 | 11:09 am
Posted by Adam Wills
Eli Goudinevsky, a 12th-grader from Amit High School in Beer Sheva, learned today that he was one of five students who won gold in a global high school physics competition called the First Step to Nobel Prize in Physics. Three other students from Israel—Evelyn Jenis from Beersheba, Daniel Achdut from Netanya and Dorin Yerhi from Arad—took silver during the contest organized by the Institute of Physics-Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw, which draws participants from 75 countries.
The winning research was conducted by Goudinevsky in the laboratory of Prof. Nathan Kleeorin at Ben-Gurion University.
“My physics teacher at school and the Ilan Ramon Youth Physics Center at Ben-Gurion University gave me the tools and helped me realize by potential,” Goudinevsky said.
The Ilan Ramon Youth Physics Center plays a large role in the success of students from the south in this competition. For instance, Hadas Tzaban from Netivot won the gold medal last year.
This year’s contestants were mentored by Prof. Victor Malamud, a physics teacher at Amit High School in Beersheba and the head of the Ilan Ramon Youth Physics Center.
“This is a big achievement,” said Prof. Malamud on Thursday. “These young scientists are the future of the country.”
Dr. Amnon Eldar said that the Israeli winners would be awarded prizes in recognition of their outstanding achievements. “These students are a symbol of excellence,” he said.
As part of his prize, Goudinevsky will work alongside research fellows at the Institute of Physics during an upcoming four-week enrichment program.
July 2, 2010 | 3:23 pm
Posted by Adam Wills
Welcome to Science Schmooze, JewishJournal.com’s blog featuring science news that interests Jews (or at least those of us who blog here).
Jews account for about a quarter of all Nobel Prize winners in science categories. Mention names like Einstein, Salk, Feynman and Sagan and how can we not beam with pride?
In his 1902 Zionist novel, “Old New Land,” Theodor Herzl envisioned a new Jewish society that would use science and technology to develop Israel. Today, sci/tech is one of the most developed sectors in Israel, a country with seven research universities that’s ranked fourth in the world in scientific activity.
Jews in the United States, Israel and around the world are behind advances in agriculture, medicine, computer science, nanotechnology and solar energy, to name just a few fields we hope to cover.