Archive for August 13th, 2009

John Quincy Adams on Twitter

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

Two hundred years ago last Wednesday, John Quincy Adams set out as the first ambassador from the United States to Russia, appointed by James President Madison. He kept a detailed journal of the trip, but also kept a separate diary that described each day in one line.

Now the Massachusetts Historical Society is using John Quincy Adams’ daily summations to class up Twitter. You too can follow his voyage of one-liners exactly 200 years after they happened.

Since part of his 140 characters are dedicated to his current longitude and latitude, you can even follow along on Google Maps as he moves. The nice people at the MHS courteously provide a link and everything.

Interesting highlights for me:
1. he loves him some Plutarch,
2. passing other ships seems to have been a regular, sometimes daily, occurence,
3. John Quincy Adams would totally be a Weather Channel junkie if he were with us today.

You can also read his full diary entries on the MHS website. They have a complete digital archive of the scanned pages. It’s a bit of a challenge to navigate and read, so you might want to start here.

Adams ambassadorship was an eventful one. He was on the job when Napoleon made the damn fool decision to invade Russia He stayed until 1814, when he was recalled to negotiate the Treaty of Ghent, ending the war with Britain that had seen the burning of the White House.

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Borg technology reveals ancient colors

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

Scientists at museum like the Met are using silver nanoparticles to analyze microscopic fragments of ancient art. This is a major advance because more conventional analysis requires a fairly sizable sample, which in some cases can be destructive to the artifact.

The nanoparticles also do a fantastic job highlighting ancient dyes, so you get to see the palette of antiquity in a whole new light.

Silver nanoparticles work by absorbing tiny amounts of dye molecules and enhancing the reading of diluted dyes. The nanoparticles also prevent otherwise fluorescent substances from reflecting too much light when a laser is shined on them.

Using such a tiny sample is important when art historians and scientists study small fragments of 4,000-year-old Egyptian letters. Removing even a tiny sample often destroys important details about the available technology and materials available to ancient civilizations.

Using silver nanoparticles, Met scientist Marco Leona has identified a particular red dye called madder lake, derived from the madder plant.

Making the dye from the plant is a complex chemical process, so the fact that the ancient Egyptians were making it as early as 1900 BC means they were even better chemists than we give them credit for.

Leona was also able to identify the same dye made from the shells of an Asian insect on two different 12th c. French statues. That suggests that Asian-European trade networks were more complex than previously imagined, even in the Middle Ages.

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