Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Gestae Breslauorum

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, I hereby continue my task of chronicling the deeds of Carl Garris, Aaron Sanders, and Scott Gwara on their journey to the distant land of Palo Alto.

We proceeded to speak with Sam and Courtney about how best to proceed with reading the ownership inscription. They showed us the beam hutch, a small room (the size of a walk-in closet) behind a heavy metal door. A complicated series of wires and assorted detectors came out from the walls and hung from the ceiling; it looked rather overwhelming! However, from Sam and Courney’s explanation, I deduced that there were three important elements. First, tube through which the beam entered. This tube was directed at the second important element, the holding apparatus for the sample. Finally, at a ninety-degree angle and about a foot away from the holding apparatus, was the detector which would read the signals emitted by the sample once the beamline was activated. Essentially, the beam would hit the various elements within the parchment and cause them to emit different signals. Once read by the detector and analyzed on the computer system, these signals would produce a “map” displaying all detected occurrences of individual elements.

The first task which we faced was figuring out how to attach the bible to the apparatus (without damaging it!) and isolate the inscription-bearing page from the others. Using the various materials such as plastic and foam which we had brought with us from USC, we devised a holder with which to securing the book in place without any of the sensitive areas, such as the parchment, having to touch the metal apparatus. To give credit where it is due, Aaron cut the foam, I bound the pages together with mylar, and Dr. Gwara coordinated the whole affair, while Sam and Courtney prepared the beam hutch for use. Though it required some minor modifications to our design, notably including solid strips in order to hold the pages in place, we managed to successfully mount the Breslauer Bible onto the holder in the beam hutch. Sam and Courtney shut the bible into the beam hutch and closed the door. Through the small window, we could see the interior lights turn off and hear the alarm warning about the imminent arrival of, to use super-scientific language, tons and tons of x-rays. Sam flipped the switch opening the beam shutter. We were ready to begin our scan!

Or so we thought. . . as I should have remembered from my prior scientific research, you can’t have a research project involving physics without preliminary testing. Sam proposed that we scan a quite-legible annotation in the right margin of the inscription-bearing folio. No problem, we thought. . . until the first scan began to appear on the screen. Viewing the iron map, we could see the main text of Saint Jerome’s letter to Saint Ambrosius. . . however, the area of the annotation was entirely blank! “How could that be?” I frantically asked Sam as he flipped through maps of several different elements, such as Zinc and Mercury, to no avail. Sam explained that the ink might have been organic in origin. Organics, apparently, are more difficult for the Synchrotron to pick up. We grew most anxious at this news. . . we feared we had come all the way to Stanford only to be thwarted by the innocuous choice of low-quality ink by a man from the fourteenth century! Sam and Courtney tried several different methods, all to no avail. Realizing that they were going to work tirelessly to solve the problem with the annotation, I suggested that we run a quick, low quality scan of the area of the inscription to see if the ink would show up or not.

Sam set the test up to run while we went to lunch. SLAC, apparently, does not currently have a cafeteria, as they are in the process of constructing a new one. Instead, they bring in food trucks from various caterers. While I was skeptical at first, I got a burger, fries, and a cookie at Courtney’s suggestion. Sitting down to eat in the shade of a Eucalyptus tree, we had a delightful time discussing the differences between South Carolina and California. Courtney, who was currently looking at houses, told us that apparently termites are so much of a problem there that they are expected in most houses! The food turned out to be delicious, especially the cookie, which apparently is something like a “dulce de leche” cookie from South America. When we returned to SLAC, we went through a brief safety demonstration (which more or less told us not to do anything dangerous and report anything amiss). We then returned to the beam hutch, anxious to find out if the inscription would show us. To our delightful relief, we could clearly read the words “de dono!” Sam told us he would set a scan up to run over the course of the afternoon and evening so that we could read it in the morning. We then departed to go and tour Stanford’s campus.

Stanford’s campus reminded me of some sort of legendary Spanish monastery. It was constructed in a sort of fantasy-Spanish architectural style (no idea if that’s a proper term or not!), with Romanesque arches surrounding cloister-like courtyards. In some ways, it reminded me of a European site, but its vast scale gave away its American origin. The square in front of the chapel was enormous! The chapel itself was beautiful, with a large mosaic over the door of what appeared to be Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. Sadly, the chapel was all locked up for the evening. . . through the window, we picked out tiles bearing alternating images of the Chi-Rho with the Alpha and Omega, which was really cool. We strolled around the campus for a while before heading down the road to Palo Alto. It was a long, but refreshing walk. When we reached the town, we decided to eat at a Thai restaurant called Thaiphoon which turned out to be quite good! I got Thai sweet tea, which oddly enough bore significant resemblance to Southern Style Sweet Tea (at least in my opinion). We had a delightful time talking about the day’s fascinating experiences before heading back to the SLAC. Before going to bed at the Guest House, we swung by the lab to see if the scan had made much progress. Unfortunately, it had only scanned empty vellum and hadn’t yet reached the inscription. After returning to the room, I fell asleep wondering what mysteries the Synchrotron would reveal in the morning.

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