All posts by Jeroen Coppens

Final thoughts

The past few months, we’ve worked hard and today we’ve handed in our thesis. One of the output results was a paper about this blog, which we share with all of our readers now.

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading and commenting on our posts the past few months, we tried our best to find interesting topics to write about, bring them to you in an entertaining way.

Thanks for reading!

Jeroen & Nico

link: Our Statement Paper


Cheating aging

In my previous post I talked about using NDT methods to discover new things in old paintings. During my research about that, I came across something that is almost the opposite of this: making something new older by using NDT methods. Scientists have discovered that it’s possible to age wine at an accelerated rate using ultrasonic waves. Making wine has been around for centuries, without much changes to the basic process, letting grapes and water ferment so the sugars turn into alcohol. This process takes a while, so a large part of winemaking was storing your liquids for an appropriate time in the right containers.

Wine Barrels
Wine aging the traditional way

In the last decade however, scientists shook things up by accelerating this process. Applying 20 kHz ultrasonic waves can induce cavitation in the wine: small bubbles that implode and create very localized high temperature and pressure. This simulates the aging of wine. Biggest difference is that this method of aging can be finished in less than 10 minutes.

Wine aging the non-traditional way
Wine aging the non-traditional way

This seems like a great new innovation, making wine easier and faster, increasing productivity,…  but there is of course a catch: the results aren’t always predictable. Using the same ingredients, same production methods, 1 bottle can turn out great while a different bottle is worthless. In my opinion, this method makes wine less special. Winemaking is some sort of art, requiring knowledge  about which sorts of barrels to use to store the wine, how long the wine should rest before being bottled,… making the critical part of winemaking something that can be achieved in minutes instead of months/years opens the doors for everyone to start producing wine, with no way of telling whether the bottle of wine you just bought was made with love and patience or in just a few minutes with cold, hard science. Do you think science can be a threat to traditional ways that have been around for ages? And would that be a bad thing? Sources:

Searching for the lost da Vinci

A mural painted by Leonardo da Vinci that is about the width of 3 last suppers next to each other, on a location that is well known, the tower of Sienna, and yet, the painting you can see there, is not one from da Vinci. How is that possible? That’s what kept engineer Maurizio Seracini awake at night for several decades.

It was believed the fresco was lost forever because since after da Vinci created the mural, the room it was in, was renovated by another artist (Vasari). There were however accounts that Vasari didn’t destroy da Vinci’s painting, but constructed a wall in front of it and left the masterpiece of Leonardo intact.
Using a wide range of non destructive testing methods (and 1 destructive test) Seracini was able to prove the masterpiece is still in place, but of course, it is still inaccessible to the public, because they didn’t want to destroy a 400 year old work of art, the lay bare a different, unfinished piece of art.

This was just 1 example of how using modern NDT methods like infrared, X-rays,… can help discovering new details or even better, new paintings.

In the blog post and accompanying TED-talk, Seracini explains how he and his team have helped create a better understanding of some of the worlds most famous paintings, as this striking example


This painting, called Lady with the unicorn, seems to depict a noblewoman, holding a unicorn in her hands. Using CT-scans however, as seen on the right part of the image, we can see that the lady is actually holding a puppy. Digging even deeper into the painting it was discovered that the original artist (Raphael) didn’t draw or paint a unicorn nor a puppy, he just painted the lady and the addition of a puppy and unicorn was done by a different artist, years or even decades later.

I find it extremely fascinating that using these techniques, we are able to reveal details, unseen for centuries, or even discover things that were never intended by the original artist. I would call this to the early stages of Photoshop, people editing paintings as they see fit.

For more interesting case studies on what details were revealed in this and a range of other paintings, check out this TED-talk or the blog post that goes with it.

Innovations in x-ray technology

Röntgen rays were discovered over 100 years ago, and yet, even now, improvements on its application are still being made.

I’ve read an interesting article about a new technique researched by the NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) to improve measurements of x-rays by reducing the error on the measurements.

Almost every material has its own, unique energy signature. This makes it possible for the police to distinguish between different materials in suitcases (as mentioned in my previous post). But to measure this “signature” accurate measurement of angles is of utmost importance. each material actually absorbs some of the wave, but reflects the rest, and it’s by measuring the angle at which the waves are reflected, scientists can determine what material it is they are scanning.

Using the new technique, the first major improvement since the 1970’s, it’s possible to measure the angles with an uncertainty of only 0,06 arcseconds or as the author of the article said

If a giant windshield wiper stretched from Washington D.C. to New York City (364 kilometers) and were to sweep out the angle of one of these errors, its tip would move less than the width of a DVD

To me, this is very hard to imagine something that precise, but I’m amazed at what accuracy can be achieved and I hope this new method will make a lot of new techniques possible or improve detection methods as used in  several areas of science such as astronomy, physics, chemistry,…

For those who want to read more about this, with a more detailed explanation of the old and new technique, the article can be found in the link below

What’s really inside?

At airports around the world, the question “What’s inside that bag?” is answered thousands of times a day, to detect explosives, poison, chemical compounds,… in both carry on and checked in luggage.

Checking all those bags, trolleys and suitcases by hand would be too much work and might also be dangerous, so thank god for CT-scanners.

Using x-rays, it’s possible to see the content of the bags without opening them and thanks to some smart technology, it’s even possible to distinguish a difference between organic, inorganic or metal objects because of a difference in density and amount of radiation the objects absorb.

Most bombs are made from organic material, but most organic objects are low-energy, so for this reason, the rays from the scanner are passed through 2 detectors: first through a full detector, then through a high-pass filter to filter out the low energy signatures and then through the second filter. The software automatically compares the data from both detectors and the differences between them are the low energy objects, most often the organic material.


I’m sure most of us have heard stories about camera’s not working after passing through a scanner at the airport, laptops that stop functioning,…
These are however myths if those objects are in the carry on luggage. The scanners used at the security checkpoints are what they call “film-safe”. The amount of radiation is so low there will be no effect what so ever on film or electronic devices.

If however you put your camera in you checked bag, there is the possibility of damage. The checked luggage is often processed in larger batches, with more powerful equipment, higher levels of radiation and so more effect on the film. Laptops and other electronic devices should however be safe with the latest technology.

This is once again a great way NDT makes our lives easier. It is however interesting to note that this isn’t the best bomb detection method available. Most airports still have a dedicated staff of trained dogs to sniff out suspicious items, often with a higher success ratio than modern technology research has found.

No matter how good technology is, nature still does it better.

For more information about how the scanners at airports work and what other methods are used check out this link