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Imaging Finds Book Hidden for 500 Years

Researchers from the University of Oxford's Bodleian Libraries and from universities in the Netherlands have used high-tech imaging to uncover the details of a rare Mexican codex dating from before the colonization of the Americas. The newly revealed codex, or book, has been hidden from view for almost 500 years, concealed beneath a layer of plaster and chalk on the back of a later manuscript known as the Codex Selden, which is housed at the Bodleian Libraries. Scientists have used hyperspectral imaging to reveal pictographic scenes from this remarkable document and have published their findings in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. Ancient Mexican codices are some of the most important artefacts of early Mexican culture and are particularly rare. Codex Selden, also known as Codex Añute, dates from around 1560 and is one of fewer than 20 known Mexican codices to have survived from pre-colonial and early colonial Mexico. Of those, it is one of only five surviving manuscripts from the Mixtec area, now the Oaxaca region of Mexico. These codices use a complex system of pictures, symbols, and bright colors to narrate centuries of conquering dynasties and genealogies as well as wars and the history of ancient cities. In essence, these codices provide the best insight into the history and culture of early Mexico. Since the 1950s, scholars have suspected that Codex Selden is a palimpsest: an older document that has been covered up and reused to make the manuscript that is currently visible. Codex Selden consists of a five-meter-long strip composed of deer hide that has been covered with gesso, a white plaster made from gypsum and chalk, and folded in a concertina format into a 20-page document. The manuscript underwent a series of invasive tests in the 1950s when one page on the back was scraped, uncovering a vague image that hinted at the possibility that an earlier Mexican codex lay hidden beneath. Until now, no other technique has been able to unveil the concealed narrative in a non-invasive way. The organic paints that were partly used to create the vibrant images on early Mexican codices do not absorb X-rays, which rules out the X-ray analysis that is commonly used to study later works of art. “After four or five years of trying different techniques, we've been able to reveal an abundance of images without damaging this extremely vulnerable item. We can confirm that Codex Selden is indeed a palimpsest,” said Ludo Snijders from Leiden University, who conducted the research with David Howell from the Bodleian Libraries and Tim Zaman from the University of Delft. This is the first time an early Mexican codex has been proven to be a palimpsest.

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New Fabric Uses Sun to Power Devices

A new fabric developed at Georgia Institute of Technology uses sunlight and motion to harvest energy. Combining the two types of electricity generation into one textile paves the way for creating garments that could provide their own source of energy to power devices such as smartphones or global positioning systems.

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Nanomaterial Could Speed Up Electric Vehicle Charging

A new nanomaterial acts as both battery and supercapacitor. A conductive polymer (green) formed inside the small holes of a hexagonal framework (red and blue) works with the framework to store electrical energy. (William Dichtel, Northwestern University) A new material could one day speed up the charging process of electric cars and help increase their driving range. Researchers have combined a covalent organic framework (COF) – a strong, stiff polymer with an abundance of tiny pores suitable for storing energy – with a very conductive material to create the first modified redox-active COF that closes the gap with other older, porous, carbon-based electrodes.

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New Radio Technology Extends Mobile Device Battery Life

UMass Amherst professor Deepak Ganesan. University of Massachusetts Amherst professors introduced a new radio technology that allows small mobile devices to take advantage of battery power in larger devices nearby for communication. The Braidio, or braid of radios, can offload energy to larger devices nearby and, in effect, make both device size and battery consumption proportional to the size of battery.

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Flywheel Technology Could Save Power for Light Rail Transit

UAlberta mechanical engineering professors Marc Secanell (left) and Pierre Mertiny demonstrated that the use of flywheels on light rail transit can produce big savings in power and cost. University of Alberta mechanical engineering professors are making an old technology new again by using flywheel technology to assist light rail transit (LRT) in Edmonton. They examined the possibility of using flywheel technology to store energy generated when the city’s LRT trains decelerate and stop. Trains such as the LRT are designed with so-called dynamic braking, using traction motors on the train’s wheels for smooth stops. But the deceleration generates energy, which needs to go somewhere.

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Laser Treatment Supports New Paper Electronics

By using lasers to treat graphene, Iowa State University researchers have found new ways to enable flexible, wearable, and low-cost electronics. Fabricating inkjet-printed, multi-layer graphene electric circuits and electrodes with a pulsed-laser process improves electrical conductivity without damaging paper, polymers, or other fragile printing surfaces.

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Standing Still May Improve Antennas That Scan in All Directions

Amin Momeni illuminates the antenna-testing chamber while Nader Behdad installs a phased-array antenna. The flat surface consists of multiple precisely-positioned elements that convert spherical radio signals into single-column beams. (Photo: Stephanie Precourt) Antennas often need to trace circles in the sky. For example, radar arrays atop air-traffic control towers rotate to sweep signals in all directions. But spinning large objects nonstop takes a lot of time and mechanical energy. So scanning from a stationary position could speed up long-range detection and communications. Now, with support from a $1.1 million grant from the U.S. Office of Naval Research, University of Wisconsin–Madison electrical engineers are working out a new strategy to create antennas that spin their beams in circles while the devices stand still. 

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