EDUCE: Enhanced Digital Unwrapping for Conservation and Exploration

Project Announcement

The National Science Foundation has just announced a three-year award for a total of $1,200,000 to the team of Brent Seales (PI), Joseph Gray (co-PI), James Griffioen (co-PI), and Ross Scaife (co-PI) for EDUCE: Enhanced Digital Unwrapping for Conservation and Exploration.

(Award number: 0535003; Start date: September 1, 2006)

Project Abstract

This proposal is to develop a hardware and software system for the virtual unwrapping and visualization of ancient texts. The overall purpose is to capture in digital form fragile 3D texts, such as ancient papyrus and scrolls of other materials using a custom built, portable, multi-power CT scanning device and then to virtually "unroll" the scroll using image algorithms, rendering a digital facsimile that exposes and makes legible inscriptions and other markings on the artifact, all in a non-invasive process. Preliminary work has demonstrated proof of concept. The project is intensely interdisciplinary, requiring expertise in multiple domains. The project is complex and presents significant intellectual and technical challenges to information technology research, materials research, engineering and the social sciences. The potential broader impacts of the project are significant and immediately useful across a large set of scholarly applications and institutional practices. Successful implementation of the described system will enable non-invasive, non-destructive examination of fragile texts and artifacts which contain a wealth of information, allowing holders to share the intellectual content of precious assets with individuals and other institutions.

Project Summary

The goal of this work is to create readable images of texts (damaged books, rolled papyrus), without opening them, using minimally invasive scanning, virtual unwrapping, and visualization. Achieving this goal will reveal texts thought lost, reviving perhaps sole extant copies of manuscripts that cannot be safely analyzed by any other known means. This challenge requires research advances in collaborative systems that support non-invasive volumetric scanning, texture and shape modeling and simulation, visualization for editorial analysis and enhancement, and underlying computational mechanisms that support massive data storage and processing.

The key research challenges:

We will develop new approaches to these challenges and will systematically build a system using simulation, real samples, and controlled experiments. We will then work with real objects from collections offered by our partners at the University of Michigan, Oxford University, the British Museum, and the Natural History Museum in London (see attached letters of partnership support from leaders at each of these institutions). We intend to produce images of complete texts that cannot be obtained by any other means.

Education: We will establish a three-credit course to be offered for a mixture of undergraduates and rising high school seniors in Jessamine County, Kentucky, our partner secondary school. The course will introduce students to fundamental technologies and the significance of the cultural artifacts themselves through a balance of technology and scholarship in the humanities.

Intellectual Merit: The proposed research will advance the core area of collaborative systems through research in several crucial areas: high-resolution, volumetric scanning; secure, programmable peer-to-peer data storage systems; multi-editor algorithms for complex surface unwrapping simu- lation, restoration and texture analysis; visualization and exploration for digital conservation and restoration. These advances will create the potential for application in other domains and will enable potential breakthroughs in research and scholarship across disciplines.

Broader Impacts: This effort is motivated by the broad potential of high resolution, volumetric, minimally-invasive scanning technology when coupled with advancements in collaborative systems that support the framework for modeling, simulation, restoration and visualization. Progress in these core research areas can enable new, innovative approaches to a wide range of applications such as automated scanning of books, advances in medical imaging, and automated scanning/analysis of objects for security purposes. Advances in peer-to-peer programmable storage mechanisms can facilitate progress in a number of areas requiring massive data storage and manipulation. The involvement of rising seniors from a regional Kentucky school district in our educational outreach effort will broaden the experience of economically disadvantaged students from the Appalachian region of Kentucky.