This year is the European year of cultural heritage, but what does particle physics have to do with art? Museums, art galleries, auction houses, art restorers and other art experts may now benefit from the use of particle detectors for art authentication and restoration.
At CERN, the Medipix collaborations have been developing pixel detector readout chips since the 1990s, enabling high-resolution, high-contrast, noise-free images – making them unique for imaging applications. Medipix2, Medipix3, Timepix and Timepix3 are state-of-the-art particle imaging and detection readout chips. Now they are being used to bring about a revolutionary improvement in the field of art authentication and restoration. A new start-up company based in Prague, InsightArt s.r.o., has adopted the technology to perform spectral X-ray scans of paintings.
Bringing together scientists and art restorers, InsightArt uses these chips to perform highly detailed X-ray scans of artworks. Unlike more conventional X-ray systems used in art authentication, the InsightArt scanner produces “colour” X-rays where colours represent different materials, i.e. pigments, in a painting. Differences in materials are detected by measuring the wavelength of X-ray photons. Furthermore, by using a system with robotic arms, analysis can be expanded to sculptures and other antique objects.
The Medipix collaboration was initially established at CERN to adapt particle-tracking chips, which had been developed for the LHC, to imaging applications in other fields. Subsequently, these chips have found applications in a wide range of sectors including medicine, space research, education and art. They are one of the many CERN technologies available for knowledge transfer.