Non-destructively reading ancient scrolls

Ancient scrolls are often too delicate to be unrolled, so they have to be read by scanning the interior. This is especially difficult when the inks in the original writing consist of burned ashes, and the scrolls themselves were later reduced to, well, burned ashes.

It takes an impressive amount of processing to tease out the signal from the noise in the resulting scans. The images are so garbled that even trained experts have trouble picking out individual letters, but with a lot of help from computer enhancement techniques, several passages have become recognizable.

This technology extends well beyond salvaging librarys visited by volcanoes. Improved signal extraction can be applied to imaging fossils without removing them from their stable resting sites, medical imaging with cheaper sensors, and monitoring equipment wear.

I’ve met one of the prize winners, Luke Farritor, a college student and former SpaceX intern. He seems like a nice guy – extremely intelligent yet still friendly and approachable. I don’t know if Luke will continue to pursue signal processing, or go work with his dad who just put a remote-controlled surgical robot into space, but I expect this kid will appear in the headlines again someday.