Lloyd Rees Memorial Lecture by Professor Keith Nugent


Thursday 6 October, 2016 at 2.30 pm at the Wark Theatre at CSIRO Manufacturing


Sources of the energetic form of light known as X-rays are developing at an enormous rate. Indeed, by one measure, they are improving at a rate that exceeds computing’s famous Moore’s Law.


The rapid improvement of synchrotron sources has driven a very significant part of this growth over the last few decades, but the already dizzying rate of development has recently been accelerated by the construction of X-Ray Free Electron Lasers (XFELS), with the first beginning operation in the USA in 2011. XFELS are now either operating or under construction in a number of countries around the world.


XFELS are based on linear accelerator technology and are able to produce pulses of X-Rays that can be up to ten orders of magnitude brighter than the pulses from modern synchrotrons. This extraordinary growth in capability is certain to unlock new scientific insights and new technologies. In this talk, Professor Nugent will describe the physics underpinning X-Ray Free Electron Lasers. He will go on to outline some of the scientific drivers behind the significant global investment in X-Ray lasers, with the most important being the possibility of imaging a single biomolecule. He will describe his progress towards these scientific goals.


Light refreshments available after the Lecture.


About the speaker

Professor Keith Nugent FAA is internationally recognised for his outstanding contributions to Chemical Physics. As Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coherent X-Ray Science from 2005 to 2013 he has driven the development of coherent X-Ray diffraction methods for imaging biological structures. His other important contribution to Chemical Physics focuses on the complete recovery of phase from intensity and the applications of this to imaging


We are all on an inescapable journey through the universe with our nearest star: our sun. If our kind manages to survive for hundreds or thousands of millions of years, we are in for one a hell of a ride.

On Thursday 25 August, join researcher in fundamental physics from the DAFNE collider in Frascati Italy, Dr Catalina Curceanu, on an imaginary journey through space and time: Riding on a star – this year’s Victorian Women in Physics lecture.

  • Discover how stars work
  • Find out what keeps stars alive and what happens when they die
  • See how a star can become an impressive supernova and give birth to a neutron star
  • Wonder the forces that bring about  black holes …
  • and ponder an important question for our distant descendants: How will our own meet its end?

The Victorian Women in Physics lecture celebrates the contribution of women to advances in physics; this year it is hosted by La Trobe Institute for Molecular Sciences.

For more information visit the Australian Institute of Physics.

Images (L-R): Portrait of a Woman by Edgar Degas (c). 1876–80 (left); a conventional X-ray of the painting;  false colour reconstruction of Degas’ hidden portrait, created from the X-ray fluorescence microscopy elemental maps produced at the Australian Synchrotron.

An alliance of Australian scientists and conservators have made a quantum leap forward in the analysis of priceless artworks, revealing an earlier painting of a different woman beneath a French Impressionist masterpiece in unprecedented detail, using a technology combination unavailable anywhere else in the world.

Shedding light on a decades-old riddle through a unique technology pipeline, researchers from Australian Synchrotron, National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) and CSIRO published stunning images of what lies beneath Edgar Degas’ Portrait of a Woman (c. 1876-1880) in the journal Scientific Reports overnight, midway through the artwork’s display at NGV International as part of Melbourne Winter Masterpieces exhibition, Degas: A new vision.

Dr Daryl Howard, Scientist on the X-ray Fluorescence Microscopy (XFM) beamline at the Australian Synchrotron – the newest addition to the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO)’s world-class line-up of landmark research infrastructure – says the re-creation of the underpainting was achieved by first producing complex metal maps to highlight minerals in the many paint types.

‘Paint from Degas’ period was primarily composed of ground-up rocks and early synthetic pigments  – with copper creating green and mercury creating red, for example – and he swirled and mixed different paints from different tubes on his palette at different times, as did the restorers who touched up this painting into the early twentieth century.

‘Placing the artwork in the path of the Australian Synchrotron beam, which is a million times brighter than the sun, we measured the exact location of different pigment mixtures in every one millimetre square pixel, and fed the vast volumes of data into a computer to reconstruct both the surface and underlying layers.’

Dr Howard says the technique is an ‘order of magnitude’ improvement for non-intrusive art analysis, crucial when handling priceless artworks.

‘Eight years ago, a low resolution three-element image, which revealed a face beneath Vincent Van Gogh’s Patch of Grass 1887, inspired us to refine and advance non-destructive imaging using some of the world’s most advanced scientific technology.

‘This analysis takes this “hands-off” approach to the next level, producing enormous 31.6 megapixel images – beyond the resolution of most of today’s best digital cameras – while subjecting each part of the artwork to radiation for only a fraction of a second to ensure it is not damaged.’

CSIRO engineer Robin Kirkham says the powerful light of the Australian Synchrotron combined with a highly sensitive detector devised at CSIRO are behind the revolutionary new technique.

‘Developed by CSIRO with US project partner Brookhaven National Laboratory over the past few years, the Maia detector can complete complex elemental imaging a hundred times faster than conventional systems.

‘Coupled with the brilliant synchrotron beam, in 33 hours the detector produced images with around 250 times more pixel definition than the far smaller 2008 Van Gogh images that took about two days to produce.’

It’s not the first time the NGV, Australian Synchrotron and CSIRO have joined forces to solve an art mystery. In 2010 similar techniques were used to find a hidden Arthur Streeton self-portrait buried under layers of lead paint and, in 2015, a major project helped uncover hidden secrets in Frederick McCubbin’s The North wind.

Degas: a new vision is exhibiting at NGV until Sunday 18 September.

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