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Muon Mission in Tuscany

Los Alamos is adapting muon tomography to help preserve a Renaissance masterpiece in Florence.
July 21, 2016
Dome frescos in Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral Florence

The dome of the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral is showing its age; wide cracks on its interior frescoes hint at greater damage within the walls. But with the help of Los Alamos imaging technology, preservationists will soon have the guidance they need to safely pursue future restoration activity.

Preservationists will soon get 3D-like images of the hidden structural details they have sought for decades.

The famed Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore was completed in 1436, and the secrets of what hidden supports or unidentified vulnerabilities might lie behind its walls have been lost to the ages. Fortunately, Los Alamos has an innovative imaging solution sourced from the cosmos with which to peer inside. Instead of metal detectors, x-rays, or ultrasonic inspection, scientists will use cosmic-ray muon trackers to create vivid images of hidden reinforcement elements supporting the 37,000-ton dome.

The award-winning technology pairs advanced detectors with high-tech software to construct images from high-energy particles called muons created in collisions between cosmic rays from space and molecules in the earth’s upper atmosphere. Already proven in archaeology and national-security applications, the technology will now demonstrate its worth at infrastructure monitoring.


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