Meeting Archimedes

Keith Devlin (L) gets as close to Archimedes as is possible today, as William Noel (R), curator of manuscripts and rare books at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland and director of the Archimedes Imaging Project, holds up a page from the Archimedes palimpsest, a 10th century manuscript which provides us with the only known Greek version of On Floating Bodies and the only surviving ancient copies of The Method of Mechanical Theorems (where Archimedes came close to inventing calculus, almost two thousand years before Newton) and the Stomachion (arguably the first paper on combinatorics). The page shown (folio 105-110) is from Method, and presents Archimedes' Proposition 14 . The photo was taken at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center on August 6, 2006, where Noel and his team were using the Stanford Synchrotron to uncover (by a process known as X-ray fluorescence) the original Archimedes text that had been washed and scraped from the goatskin parchment by a 13th century monk who recycled the manuscript to make a prayer book. For full information on the palimpsest and the imaging project, see

The photographs below, taken in the beamroom where the actual imaging takes place, show Noel and Devlin together with Mary Miller from the San Francisco Exporatorium (who works with the Imaging Project on public outreach activities) and Abilgail Quant, the Senior Conservator of Rare Books and Manuscripts at the Walters Museum, whose job it is to ensure the safety of the manuscript.