Will Noel Extra Lab

Short disclaimer: because I am recalling a lot of what William Noel said (most of the power point was filled with only pictures), the names, or other “nouns” that I refer to might be spelled incorrectly and I’m sorry! I used my best judgment.


William Noel’s speech was very intriguing and taught me a lot about how to make physical material work in a digital environment. I had already watched his Ted Talk about “Reveling the lost Codex of Archimedes” back in September, and although there were many similarities mentioned, he did a great job of giving us another aspect of his journey. He began by showing us a photo of a “closed” book. What he meant by “closed” was unique, very fragile, expensive (this book in particular is two million dollars), can’t read it – unless you can read ancient Greek cursive, etc. This is how he first saw the book when it came to him and his team, however, after many days of hard work, him and his team was able to begin “opening” the book. They realized that it was a prayer book that had erased text underneath it and the book was formerly an Archimedes Manuscript!


Why take Archimedes?

Noel explained that whomever was wanting to write this prayer book probably never meant to erase such important text, but they were just looking for free parchment not from one of the ‘important’ sections of the library… so they chose something more from the philosophy section and didn’t think any harm would come of it! Along with the Archimedes manuscript, there were other totally unique texts mixed into the prayer book that were also discovered by him and his team.


How was Archimedes saved?

He didn’t go as in depth in this talk as he did in his Ted Talk, but he went over essentially the basics as to what his team did to read the text. First, the text was imaged in sixteen different ways of light, then they brought up two digital images: blue ultra violet light, and a red light. Next, those two images were put together, zoomed in by a lot, and then the Archimedes text could be read! Noel explained that these images were able to show the text because “dark minus dark equals zero, bright minus bright equals zero, but dark minus bright equals one!”


Why interested in saving Archimedes?

“Archimedes is the equivalent of Bach” he was the symphony of math and science. Archimedes took math and science and was able to figure out the truth of the world, represented through shapes and diagrams.


What about the gold leaf?

According to Noel, there were parts of the prayer book that was actually scraped off and replaced by a gold leaf illumination. This portion of the book could not be read by the light system that the other erased text could be read by so they had to figure out some other way to do it. He talked about how they figured out how the electrons and protons react to different materials and light and how they could potentially use a type of x-ray. In order to do this without disturbing the illumination, they needed to figure out all of the different compounds on the page and how they could manipulate them. They used different techniques to map out all of the iron on the page and finally, in California, using special x-rays, they were able to read through the gold. Noel mentioned that he sent the finished picture of the page to Nigel Willson to read it and Willson exclaimed that he could “read Aristotle clearly” form the book!


What happened to all the data?

Noel then told us all of the different ways he was able to store the data. He mentioned that at one point the information was turned into sound, but it wasn’t very useful. Instead, they created the Digital Archimedes Palimpsest Website where all of the data can be easily accessed for free! He explained that it was very important to share all of this data so everyone has access to it and can do what they like with it. The secrets for doing this correctly is to keep it simple, document everything, and publish it under a public license. He decided to publicly share the data because his mission is to make what was once expensive, free; was once dangerous, safe; and once unknown, known. He then went on to say that it’s much more fun to share data and let everyone see it because then it creates a sense of unity and open knowledge that can be distributed in millions of different ways.


The last part of his talk was my favorite, he told us stories about all of the times he had taken some of the data and shared it on mass media sites and had many people comment and talk about it—someone even found some of their grandfather’s works on one of the documents he posted! He also has shared it with schools and universities and anyone who wants it! It was really great to listen to someone so passionate about digitally spreading knowledge to the world—with no strings attached!!

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