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Duke discovers new use for laser in art world

Thursday - 7/4/2013, 3:49pm  ET

In this Thursday, June 27, 2013 photo, Bill Bowman, chief conservator at the North Carolina Museum of Art, holds a Lorenzo Lotto painting from the Renaissance at Duke University in Durham, N.C. The North Carolina Museum of Art is working with Duke University’s Center for Molecular and Biomolecular Imaging using pump-probe lasers to clean and examine art. Pump-probe laser imaging is a technique originally designed by Dr. Warren S. Warren, director of CMBI at Duke, to use in melanoma diagnoses. The technology is now being applied to art, allowing art conservators to better recognize the paints or other materials used when the work was originally created. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Associated Press

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) -- A Duke University professor who developed a laser to study melanoma has discovered a new use for the system: uncovering what's underneath the surface of painting without damaging it.

Dr. Warren S. Warren's pump-probe laser is being used to create three-dimensional cross-sections of artworks so researchers can see what's beneath the paint.

Duke is working on the project with the N.C. Museum of Art, which provided a 14th-century painting for the laser to examine. Museum chief conservationist Bill Brown says the laser showed the painting likely was important in its day because it's partly covered with lapis lazuli -- a mineral that was more expensive than gold.

John Delaney of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., says the laser isn't ready for prime-time, but says it shows promise.

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