Particle accelerator dedicated to studying art switched on in Paris

Art and science collide at the Louvre in Paris where a particle accelerator is being used to research paintings and objects in the Museum’s collections.

The world’s only particle accelerator solely dedicated to investigating art, the accelerator measures 37m in length and is located deep below the Louvre. Switched on for the first time on Thursday (23 November) it enables researchers to analyse the chemical makeup of artworks without damaging them or the need for samples.

An earlier version of the accelerator built in 1988 was used sparingly by researchers because of concerns that its particle beam might change the colours of the artworks. While the old version could only be used between 8-10 hours a day there is no limit to how long the new accelerator, known as Aglae, can be used for.

The Centre for Research and Restoration of the Museum of France (C2RMF) paid £1.8million to upgrade to the latest version of the accelerator. Among the first objects tested by Aglae were Roman votive statues of the household gods, the Lares. Bombarded with helium and hydrogen atoms travelling at speeds of between 20,000 to 30,000 kilometres (12,400 to 18,600 milers) per second the statues emitted radiation. When analysed, the radiation revealed their chemical composition.

Experts plan to use Aglae routinely to study artworks and objects made from organic materials and assist with their authentication.

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