The Daguerreotype and the X-ray: A Deep Look

July 17, 2013

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Argonne and Advanced Photon Source physicist Volker Rose will use a nanoprobe and X-rays from the Advanced Photon Source near Lemont to examine daguerreotypes from the Smithsonian. (Chuck Berman, Chicago Tribune. Copyright © 2013 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC)

From the Chicago Tribune: Scientists guess that the faded photograph of the young woman was taken in the 1840s. But that is conjecture, and, like everything else about her, the date of the photo is a mystery. They don't know her name, where the image was made or who photographed her.

And yet the woman — her flat expression representative of so many of the earliest photographs known as daguerreotypes — likely will play a crucial role in future scientific breakthroughs. Last week, hers was the first daguerreotype to undergo powerful x-ray analysis in a collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution and Argonne National Laboratory, near Lemont, Illinois.

The project is the most recent example of an emerging effort that uses cutting-edge science to investigate and preserve cultural history while perhaps illuminating a path toward new scientific applications.

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The Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory is one of five national synchrotron radiation light sources supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science to carry out applied and basic research to understand, predict, and ultimately control matter and energy at the electronic, atomic, and molecular levels, provide the foundations for new energy technologies, and support DOE missions in energy, environment, and national security. To learn more about the Office of Science X-ray user facilities, visit the user facilities directory.

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation's first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America's scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.