Adam Gibson Lecture

22 July 2019


Medical Imaging

Laparoscopes and Leonardo: unveiling the secrets of art using medical imaging

A public lecture by Professor Adam Gibson, Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering, University College London (UCL) and 2019 UWA Institute of Advanced Studies.

Medical imaging is one of the great successes of medicine in the last two hundred years. We can be sure that everyone attending this public lecture has either been imaged by x-rays, ultrasound or MRI themselves, or has close family who has been imaged. Between them, these techniques have saved countless lives and transformed our understanding of disease and well-being.

Imaging of art, manuscripts and documents, by comparison, is relatively underdeveloped. But there are questions about how artists created their artworks, how they have changed over time and how best we can conserve and restore them that can only be answered by imaging. Can we take advantage of the great successes of medical imaging and apply these well-known techniques to imaging well-loved works of art?

Some of these heritage applications are relatively well known such as X-ray computed tomography of ancient Egyptian mummies that means we now understand more about traditional burial practices. Sophisticated photography under controlled lighting has been used to reveal hidden and lost texts, and has shown underdrawings in works of art. In this lecture we will examine some medical imaging techniques and show how they can be used, developed and adapted in order to uncover the inner workings of the world’s oldest computer, the construction of a 500 year-old pop-up book, the very earliest printing processes and painting techniques used by renaissance artists such as Leonardo de Vinci and Raphael.

Adam Gibson is a medical physicist and heritage scientist at University College London. He trained as a hospital physicist and then turned to research in medical imaging. He has developed imaging and image processing techniques that led to the first 3D electrical impedance images of adult brain function and the first 3D optical tomography images of the neonatal head. He has published research in a range of medical imaging methods as well as radiotherapy, where he has a research interest in measuring optical and other emissions from a radiotherapy treatment beam.

Recently, he has applied his medical imaging expertise to imaging heritage objects. Primarily this has involved multispectral photography to reveal writing that is not visible to the naked eye, for example due to wear, overpainting and deletion. His research group has identified the name of the person buried in an ancient Egyptian coffin, revealed drawing techniques used by Leonardo da Vinci and painting techniques used by Raphael and Poynter, and identified numerous marks in books and manuscripts.