Saturday, December 1, 2012


The daily question: Whither the book?

In these differently illuminated days of electronic media, universities must become ever more creative in their attempts to shake off any perception of mustiness. Digitized collections are one way; they enable a wired scholar in, say, Perugia, to conduct at least preliminary research about forestry or Britain or komonjo.

And university English departments in particular must invent new ways to attract students to the yellowing pages of previous centuries. Perhaps towards that end, the Texas Institute for Literary & Textual Studies (TILTS), a multidisciplinary initiative affiliated with UT Austin's Department of English, launched a book-minded effort this fall. As part of an event yesterday at the Harry Ransom Centerthe English department presented a project produced in collaboration with the Texas Advanced Computing Center and Institute for Cell and Molecular Biology.

The project, Migrographia, probes a physical book at the microscopic and atomic level. Specifically it takes a single page from Robert Hooke's pioneering 1664 work Micrographia: or some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies made by Magnifying Glasses : with Observations and Inquiries thereupon and puts it under a microscope in a big way.

Amplified and projected across 80 individual 30-inch computer screens, the page publicizes what is surely a work of major modern microscopy. Possibly the intention is to give us an idea of how Hooke's images would have astonished the eyes of a 17th century individual.

As published in the UT Austin publication Know:

First, the team is creating a microscopic panorama of a single page of Micrographia (from a 1667 second-edition copy) by stitching together hundreds of photos taken with a stereo dissection microscope in the genetics lab of Janice Fischer, a professor in Molecular Cell and Developmental Biology.

The photos were painstakingly shot one by one, moving the microscope’s camera across the page in millimeter increments. These photos were then stitched together into an integrated image using the expertise and processing software at the TACC/ACES Visualization Laboratory (Vislab).

Digitally suturing the images, or tiles, together makes it possible to create a single image of the entire page that contains an incredible amount of microscopic detail. However, because the final image is so large, only a tiny portion of the image would be viewable on a standard computer monitor. To view the image in its full glory, the researchers loaded it on the 36-foot-wide “Stallion” display wall at the TACC/ACES Vislab.

Made up of 80 individual monitors, Stallion boasts a whopping 328-megapixel resolution, making it the highest-resolution-tiled display in the world. Seen in this way, the team’s images of Hooke’s book have the same blow-your-mind-wow-factor that Hooke’s oversized engravings must have had in the 1660s.

Finally, to get an even “deeper” perspective on the book, the team turned to scanning electron microscope technology, which can create images down to the atomic level. Electron Microscopy Specialist Dwight Romanovicz ran samples taken from the Micrographia’s pages through the Zeiss Supra 40 VP Scanning Electron Microscope, a facility of the ICMB. The SEM image takes the microscopic view further than Hooke, who coined the term “cell,” could have imagined in the 17th century — and does so using his own work as the subject.

Observ. XXV. 
Of the stinging points and juice of Nettles
and some other venomous Plants
[ Project Gutenberg ]

I don't know if the word Tripoly made it into the lab. From Hooke's preface: 

And hence it is, that if you take a very clear piece of a broken Venice Glass, and in a Lamp draw it out into very small hairs or threads, then holding the ends of these threads in the flame, till they melt and run into a small round Globul, or drop, which will hang at the end of the thread; and if further you stick several of these upon the end of a stick with a little sealing Wax, so as that the threads stand upwards, and then on a Whetstone first grind off a good part of them, and afterward on a smooth Metal plate, with a little Tripoly, rub them till they come to be very smooth; if one of these be fixt with a little soft Wax against a small needle hole, prick'd through a thin Plate of Brass, Lead, Pewter, or any other Metal, and an Object, plac'd very near, be look'd at through it, it will both magnifie and make some Objects more distinct then any of the great Microscopes.

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