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Noninvasive technology can read closed books
25 September 2002, News

A form of electromagnetic imaging which is sensitive enough to 'see' writing on each page in a book, while the cover remains closed, has been developed by researchers. Called terahertz imaging, the technique offers scholars and the wider public the opportunity for examining the contents of precious books and manuscripts without contributing to their deterioration which is likely, if they are handled frequently.

As well as looking at historical documents and watermarks, the researchers will work with the York Archaeological Trust and take images of paintings and ceramics. They will discover what lies beneath the outer painting or glaze and be able to identify the substances involved. This can provide important information on the creation of the artefact and the technologies used by its maker.

Dr Nikolay Zinovev (left), from St Petersburg, Russia, places a book in the imaging system located in the Institute of Microwave and Photonics, at the University of Leeds, England. Principal researcher Dr Robert Miles looks on
Dr Nikolay Zinovev (left), from St Petersburg, Russia, places a book in the imaging system located in the Institute of Microwave and Photonics, at the University of Leeds, England. Principal researcher Dr Robert Miles looks on

Dr Miles explained: "Until now, we have been concentrating on the medical applications of the technology. Unlike X-rays, terahertz waves are not harmful, so there are no exposure worries for practitioners or patients." Terahertz imaging is sensitive enough to show the chemical nature of the object studied. Terahertz waves make molecules vibrate and the frequency of the vibration reveals the chemicals present and also if there are chemical reactions taking place - features of the technology which greatly increase the range of its application."

The technology can also be applied to determine the composition of foodstuffs, as well as for analysing the wear and tear of fibres that are used in advanced clothing (such as breathable clothing) and industrial situations.

For more information contact the School of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, University of Leeds, UK, or see

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