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Recording Science: From Parchment to Pixels.

by Jeffrey Salmon on Fri, August 06, 2010



One of the more fascinating pieces of work at a DOE National Laboratory was the examination of an ancient work by Archimedes on parchment that had been erased, written over, and so, mostly, lost to history. Lost, that is, until the SLAC synchrotron X-ray beam tore into the parchment and was able to let us see and read much of the original Archimedean text. Archimedes would have used a lab notebook, if he had had paper, or a computer and a thumb-drive to record his work if they had been available, but he did not live long enough to invent those things, which he probably could have if given the time. One hopes that before his study was erased, others were able to read it, profit from its insights, and use the knowledge as a springboard to another discovery. That’s one way we make progress.

We often hear that with declining costs in storage, increased bandwidth, and faster processing speeds, the power and potential of the electronic age to spread and communicate science are amazing things to ponder. I guess. But the work can still be lost, no matter how it is recorded. And some material, let’s face it, isn’t worth saving. Between this blog and Archimedes’ method of mechanical theorems, the work that SLAC was looking at, which would you save? What is needed now, as then, is someone to care about preserving the scientific findings that are worth preserving.

That goes for what is called “new media,” as it does for parchments. Multimedia (video, animation, visualization, interactive publishing, image and object recognition) is widely used to record, share, and collaborate in science. Because of the U.S. Department of Energy's central role in science, we are also at the center of technology for collecting and disseminating this new media, as well as the old. Acquiring and disseminating are separate but equally essential (and complicated) elements to accelerating scientific discovery.

On the acquiring side, it's essential that DOE's policy and processes reflect the latest methods and media used for recording scientific information. This includes updating the DOE order/directive to appropriately defines "scientific and technical information" so that videos and other multimedia are added to the body of DOE's scientific output, along with technical reports, conference papers, and other written media. The Office of Scientific and Technical Information will work in partnership with our National Labs and grantees to acquire the appropriate R&D results, regardless of the electronic media format.

On the disseminating side, it's equally essential that OSTI leverage technology to maximize the re-use and impact of DOE research results. Working with some of the brightest minds in the computer industry, OSTI will unveil pioneering search and retrieval capabilities for multimedia-based science -- in February 2011. Specifically, we plan to launch a new ground-breaking information product that will make the audio portion of videos – every single word -- searchable. Users will fill out a search box with a word or phrase much as is done on or The tool will find matches in a large DOE collection of videos, and link the user to the specific place in each video where the word or phrase match is spoken. Archimedes would certainly enjoy playing with this new tool, I suspect, and he could probably tell us how to make it work better.

Jeff Salmon


Deputy Director for Resource Management

Other Related Topics: archimedes, multimedia, new media, slac
Page last updated on 2017-08-11 04:57

About the Author

Dr. Jeffrey Salmon's picture
Jeffrey Salmon
Deputy Director for Resource Management, U.S. DOE Office of Science