PARIS – France’s ministry of culture presented on Thursday its new non-invasive particle accelerator, a powerful scientific tool that allows to safely analyze pieces of art in order to confirm their date of creation and authenticity.
Located 15 meters (49 feet) below the unsuspecting hordes of tourists visiting Paris’ Louvre museum, right under the site’s iconic glass pyramid, the Accélérateur Grand Louvre d’analyse élémentaire (AGLAE) looks like it is pulled straight out of a Dan Brown thriller.
“Its emissions enable to identify all chemical elements present in the object’s outer layers, even trace amounts,” said a National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) statement. “Their nature, concentration, and location reveal the object’s history and enable its authentication.”
AGLAE is the jewel in the crown of the French Center for Research and Restoration of Museums (CRRM) at the Louvre, which is responsible for the documentation, conservation and restoration of items displayed and stored in over 1,200 museums across France.
This new piece of hardware substitutes the CRRM’s previous accelerator, which had been operational since 1988; it remains the world’s only particle accelerator used exclusively to analyze artworks.
The 27 meter-long machine operates by “bombing” the piece of art with a stream of accelerating particles (hydrogen or helium nuclei) at speeds of up to 20,000 kilometers per second (12,427 mi/s).
As they penetrate the material, these particles slow down and release their energy to the atoms, which in turn emit radiation such as X-rays, gamma rays and photons, among other particles.
The previous unit was dismantled in mid-2016; according to the CNRS, the new AGLAE installation improves its predecessor’s performance: it automates the beam line, optimizes chemical imaging on the micrometer scale and enables 24/7 automated analysis, instead of the previous model’s eight-hour limitation.
The first analyses will be performed on a group of bronze statues stored at the Bavay ancient Forum in northern France with the aim of revealing their production technique and enriching an exhibition scheduled for September 2018.
After that, the Celtic treasures of Lavau (Aube) will follow. Studying those will help determine how to best conserve and restore them.
To celebrate the new AGLAE, a colloquium is set to take place on Nov. 30 in the Louvre’s auditorium that will feature explanations on the AGLAE’s functioning and review some of its landmark studies.