Synchrotron X-rays unlock secrets of fossils

By | February 19, 2009

Synchrotron X-rays unlock secrets of fossils

High-powered X-rays from particle accelerators are helping researchers unlock the mysteries of dinosaurs and ancient documents in three dimensions, say scientists.

Gone are the days when researchers had to dig objects up and crack them open, reported experts this week at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) annual meeting in Chicago, USA.

The X-rays show detail non-invasively, which is important for looking at artifacts that are too fragile to excavate, explained Jen Hiller, a speaker at the conference and a scientist at Diamond Light Source, a research company on the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire, England.

Massive improvement

Synchrotrons were developed for high-energy physics research, but are now allowing scientists to look at the two- and three-dimensional (3-D) structure of fossils, old documents, and works of art.

“These X-rays work a thousand times better than what you could do with a commercial X-ray machine – only a synchrotron can do this,” said Uwe Bergmann, a scientist at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource of Stanford University in California, USA.

Synchrotron X-rays are different from regular X-rays in that they are generated from high-speed electrons as they race around the ring of a particle accelerator, which makes them more powerful and concentrates them into a hair-thin beam.

When used to scan a fossil or other artifact, the rays can even illuminate some of the chemical elements they are made up of, such as calcium or phosphorous.

With the technique, experts can now see chemical elements from the original organism still present in fossils – a remarkable breakthrough. …

via Synchrotron X-rays unlock secrets of fossils | COSMOS magazine.

Leave a Reply