Whilst this may seem biased coming from us, the breakthroughs provided by lasers are absolutely astounding. Not only has it allowed us here at Subcon Laser to revolutionise the manufacturing, catering and engraving industry, but the developments across all sectors go way beyond this.
In this blog we’re going to discuss the incredible ways that lasers have beamed the past into the present. Thanks to the fast, high detail scanning offered from this technology, scientists around the world have been uncovering more and more previously impossible-to-know insights into the past. Like a glowing light, Lasers have lit a new path into history, offering us unprecedented levels of discovery.
The more we come to grips with this incredible technology, the more it will become commonplace to see lasers in everyday and academic life. We’ve taken a look at some of the most amazing discoveries made over the past few years with the help of lasers.
Laser Technology is bringing the Dodo Back to life
The Dodo, famous for its role in the phrase ‘dead as a…’ has become a tragic icon of man’s greed; the flightless bird native to Mauritius being driven to extinction from European colonisation of the area. In a few short years, the entire Dodo population had disappeared off the face of the earth, and is rendered a harrowing tale for conservationists across the planet.
Worse yet, a lack of interest in the creature, which offered no ways of exploitation from the invading travellers means that there is only one complete skeleton on the planet. And whilst we may never truly be able to bring this fascinating and dowdy bird back from the grave, we can gain an insight into the existence it led. And what’s more, with lasers.
Researchers at the College of Holy Cross in Massachusetts, USA, have been using some of the latest technology in laser scanning to investigate the only existing complete Dodo skeleton on the planet. The specimen, originally owned by Etienne Thirioux, has offered the researchers a unique insight into how these creatures moved and lived in the wild.
By using the incredible detail offered from a laser scan, the team at Holy Cross have managed to recreate a 3D image of the skeleton. Utilising the latest in software technology, they have been able to add muscle tissue to this design and simulate the movement of the mysterious Dodo.
This recreation means that we now have a much greater idea of how a creature previously only known through artistic and written accounts, interacted with its surroundings.
The results of this were presented by the team as part of the Society for Vertebrate Archaeology annual conference in Berlin. As you’ll see from our next example, the adoption of laser technology in the field of past biological research has been rapid and immense.
Lasers Weigh Dinosaurs
It’s not only Dodos and smaller animals that are receiving the laser treatment, as the incredible scanning abilities are aiding further discovery of everyone’s favourite prehistoric reptiles. Research, led by University of Manchester academic Bill Sellers, is blazing a trail for fellow paleontologist’s hoping to uncover further details on these ferocious lizards.
The beast in question is the Giraffatitan, the new name of the famous long necked dinosaur Brachiosaurus. Whilst there is no doubt of its incredible size, clearly visible at its home in the Berlin Museum, a more intriguing question – at least for scientists – is the weight of such a creature.
With dinosaur muscles and skin having disappeared into the abyss of time, this is a question that has been plaguing dino-researchers for quite some time. Thanks to laser technology, however, we now have a more accurate set of scales for one of history’s most incredible specimens.
Similar to the method associated with the dodo, dinosaur bones can be quickly scanned and sent across the world digitally, with estimates of their weight established through research into current mammalian examples. Sellers used various examples of mammals that could be weighed with current field data, then added the weight of skin to this figure.
Whilst this fails to include muscle, what this did produce was a trend that all the specimens weighed were all around 20% lighter than their muscle clad living examples. From here, Professor Sellers suggests that a method could be established to estimate the weights of various dinosaur skeletons.
Whilst this isn’t a comprehensive answer, with no one being able to know just how much dinosaur muscle and organ actually weighed, it’s the most educated guess we currently have. With such potential being offered, the future of lasers in the study of ancient creatures is incredibly exciting and promising.
Lasers and Renaissance painting
The insights into long gone animals is mesmerising. However, just as incredible is how lasers are allowing us to uncover secrets of our most beloved masterpieces. Using 3D imaging techniques, researchers behind the development of laser technology for detecting skin cancer have found another use beyond saving lives, exploring layers of paint on old canvases.
When it comes to skin cancer, this laser technology is used to detect melanin levels on the skin, which in turn allows them to analyse patient’s results to help prevent cancer. However, scientists’ minds began to wander as to what else they could apply this incredible technology and found themselves testing on the layers of oil paintings of the past.
Similar to the way that the pulsing lasers search into molecules to reveal their chemical make up, the same beam can be used to reveal the pigments and layers used in paintings. After testing on a whole series of practice paintings, the biomedical laser was eventually turned to a renaissance classic, The Crucifixion by Puccio Capanna painted in 1330.
With the full expertise of 3D imaging technology, scientists were able to produce cross sections of the layer upon layer of paint used to such an immaculate example of Catholic art. What they discovered was a fascinating revelation of the types of materials used in production.
For instance, the Lapis Lazuli deep blue pigment that was used in Mary’s robe was more valuable than gold at the time of painting, showing just how important this painting, or the recipient of it was. Not only does it reveal a whole other side of the story to art historians, but it also provides us with a better understanding of how to care and restore these works of art.
As well as helping these oil canvases avoid showing their wrinkles, there is a further added value to this technique from the point of view of art dealers. For years, it has been notoriously difficult to differentiate between original works and forgeries. With this technology, the breakdown of chemicals used would allow us to spot any wannabes from the genuine article.
Lasers are uncovering the Ancient World
Perhaps even more epic that dinosaurs has been the leaps and bounds that lasers have provided us within exploration of the ancient world. Taking influence from bats, a team of archaeologists from the University of California San Diego have been attaching LIDAR lasers to drone quadcopters. This has been providing a quick and efficient way for field researchers to document and study the ancient architecture of past tribes.
In this particular case, the focus was on the ancient city of El Zotz, a Mayan structure in Northern Guatemala. For years, the team had attempted to visit and document the area on foot, but the inhospitable conditions as well as centuries of layered vegetation proved nearly impossible to explore.
However, with the pulsing laser beams attached to low cost, easy to function aerial devices, the team has been able to scan through the plant life to reveal the original structure. From this, they’ve been successful in producing a 3D replica of the whole building without having to even leave the office. This is giving us an invaluable look at how pre-columbian society existed in an ancient world.
With other research carried out in Cambodia at the Angkor Wat temple, its clear to see that this isn’t a one off technique. Revealing the roads, pathways and buildings that the ancient world existed around helps us to better understand our ancestors and how we shaped those worlds. Words can’t describe how mind boggling and incredible the discoveries we could make from this are; but evidently, lasers can.
Lasers: the future technology that unveils the past
Whether it’s showing how extinct creatures lived, giving us an idea of a dinosaur’s waistband or uncovering the truth about civilisations past, laser technology is a truly remarkable tool in the exploration of history. Above, we’ve covered a miniscule selection of some of the astounding breakthroughs that this relatively young technology has provided.
As we reveal more of past events and creatures, our technology will improve. Who knows what the future will hold for the past. With the next major discovery right around the corner, all eyes are looking at lasers.
What’s your favourite historic discovery made by lasers? Can you think of any that haven’t been mentioned? Let us know in the comments below or get in touch on twitter @SubconLaser