Reading a Book without Opening the Book

AP, Michael Casey:

Leave it to the great minds at MIT and Georgia Tech to figure out a way to read the pages of a book without actually opening it.

A team of researchers from the two institutions pulled it off with a system they developed that looks like a cross between a camera and a microscope.

They said it could someday be used by museums to scan the contents of old books too fragile to handle or to examine paintings to confirm their authenticity or understand the artist’s creative process.

Writing in the latest issue of the journal Nature Communications, the scientists explained how they used terahertz waves — a type of radiation situated on the electromagnetic spectrum between microwaves and infrared light — to read a stack of papers with a single letter handwritten on each page.

The device, called a terahertz spectrometer, managed to clearly read only nine pages, though it could see writing on up to 20.

“We were very excited because we didn’t think we would be able to see as deep as we did,” said Barmak Heshmat, a research scientist at the MIT Media Lab.

While the device is still a long way from reading an entire book, Heshmat said the team is already talking with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York about using it to inspect some of its artworks and antique volumes. The museum did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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