Nov.26, 2014 | By Kira

A consortium of researchers from five European countries is developing a state-of-the-art 3D scanning system that is bridging the worlds of science and art history like never before.

The scanner, created by the EU-Funded project Insidde (Integration of technological solutions for imaging, detection, and digitisation of hidden elements in artworks), is capable of revealing information about works of art that is invisible to the naked eye, including the way in which the brushes were applied, which materials were used, or even the contents of sealed, 3D objects.

This information is highly valuable for art historians, opening new fields of research and providing priceless insights that would otherwise be lost to the ravages of time. "The scanner may show details on how a painting was made…how the painter worked; these details are also extremely helpful for conservators when preparing for the restoration of paintings", notes Laurens van der Maaten from Delft University of Technology.

Thanks to terahertz technology, a hidden portrait of a woman was recently discovered underneath Goya's famous portrait of Jovellanos. Source: Insidde, via the Museum of Fine Arts of Asturias

Most importantly, the technology is non-intrusive, allowing researchers and art conservators to gain new insights without the risk of contaminating or damaging the object itself. As Marta Flórez, of the Museum of Fine Arts of Asturias points out, "with the prototype we have been able to clearly distinguish between some pigments, which in some cases will avoid having to puncture the painting in order to find out what materials the artist used." This is both valuable and exciting for museum staff.

In addition to scanning the planar surfaces of centuries-old paintings, by combining a structured-light scanner with the terahertz scanner, the researchers will be able to use the technology on sealed 3D objects, such as a collection of Bulgarian pots from the 3rd century whose contents have remained a mystery (pictured below).

(a) Still life. (b) Reproduction used for test and validation purposes. (c) Samples to be analysed with the terahertz scanner consisting of multiple pigments found in the original painting.

(a) Ceramic from the III century. (b) Setup for 3D acquisition with a structured light scanner. (c) 3D model resulting from raw data before post-processing.

The 3D scanner itself is mounted on what is referred to as the "XYZ table", which measures 1.50 x 1.50 metres and is 1.20 metres high. The scanner has multiple heads, which incorporate graphene emitters and receptors and can move three-dimensionally across the 2 square metre work area.

While other non-invasive scanning technologies, such as x-ray and infrared reflectography, are already being used for similar purposes, the benefit of terahertz 3D scanning lies in its unique frequency range. As Javier Gutiérrez Meana, project coordinator and R&D Program Manager at Treelogic, explains, terahertz technology's penetration depth is lower than x-ray, but higher than infrared. Therefore, it can provide additional information that complements, rather than replaces, the existing methods.

"We expect - and the preliminary results are very promising - to be able to distinguish among materials with different widths and thus to be capable of analysing each layer independently. This will give an idea of the original sketches, how they were modified by the artist or the order in which the paint or brushstrokes were applied," said Gutiérrez Meana.

The use of graphene is another important component of this new technology. Referred to as the "material of the future," graphene is formed by a single layer of carbon atoms that is only one atom thick. When submitted to electromagnetic waves, it behaves in a non-linear way, "It functions like a kind of frequency multiplier," explains David Gómez and Nuria Campos from ITMA Materials Technology. "If we make a wave of a particular frequency impinge on graphene, the graphene has the ability to emit another, higher, frequency."

Led by Treelogic, an R&D intensive company specialized in ICT solutions, and managed by the Universidad de Oviedo in Spain, the object of the Insidde project is not only to benefit researchers and curators in the artworld, but to make this technology accessible to the public.

They aim to do so by integrating enriched 3D models of the scanned artworks into the online, knowledge-sharing platform Europeana, and by developing an augmented-reality smartphone app, which can be used in public museums and art galleries. "We think Insidde can contribute to generating enthusiasm when visiting a museum," said Gutiérrez Meana.

Demonstrating how European museum visitors could use the augmented-reality app in real life.

Although it is still in its trial and calibration phase, the 3D scanning technology shows great potential for both the art and 3D technology industries. However, the possibilities are not solely to be found in cultural heritage. In the future, graphene-based terahertz 3D scanning could potentially be adapted to other scenarios, such as security or healthcare purposes—imagine a totally non-intrusive, non-destructive body-scanning device at international airports, or being used in hospitals on burn victims.

The official Insidde consortium is led by Treelogic in Spain, and also includes seven other organizations hailing from Spain, The Netherlands, Italy, Belgium and Bulgaria, which range from research institutes, such as the Delft University of Technology and 4DDynamics, to world-renowned museums such as the Museum of Fine Arts of Asturias.

Posted in 3D Scanning


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