Scientists hope to digitally unravel scrolls charred by Vesuvius with light 10 billion times brighter than the sun

One of the two Herculaneum scrolls from L'Institut de France being scanned at Diamond Light Source by the University of Kentucky's Digital Restoration Initiative team.

(CNN)Scientists from the University of Kentucky say they're working to perfect a technique to digitally unravel fragile ancient texts that haven't been read in nearly 2,000 years.

W. Brent Seales, who heads the University of Kentucky's Digital Restoration Initiative, told CNN he and his research team just returned from a trip to England where they took detailed images of the scrolls from the ancient Roman city of Herculaneum, using a facility called a synchotron.
This synchotron, the Diamond Light Source, accelerates electrons to nearly the speed of light, so that they emit light 10 billion times brighter than the sun.
    The synchotron tunes energy to be "very focused, like a laser," Seales said. "The waves go right through very quickly."

    They hope to read scrolls buried by Vesuvius

    That technology is necessary to help do the immensely detailed work of trying to read scrolls preserved when Mount Vesuvius rained fire and ash on the Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum in AD 79.
    The scrolls remained buried in a villa in Herculaneum, believed to be associated with Julius Caesar's family, until they were re-discovered in 1752. After being charred in the eruption, unpacking the scrolls' secrets has proven fleeting.
    Attempting to physically unroll the scrolls might ruin them.
    So the task ahead of the University of Kentucky researchers is to use the sophisticated imaging technique to see through the delicate layers of papyrus--rolled over on itself hundreds of times.
    The international team work on the decoding the Herculaneum scrolls. Front Row -- Jens Dopke, Brent Seales, Francoise Berard, Christy Chapman. Back Row -- Robert Atwood and Thomas Connolley.