The neu_ART project (2010-2013)

Click here for a list of all the people involved in the project.

The Torino division of the National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN), the Department of Physics of the University of Torino and the Foundation Centre for Conservation and Restoration Center "La Venaria Reale" (CCR) developed and presented in 2009 the neu_ART project, responding to a regional call for research projects in the field of Humanities and Social Sciences for the year 2008, promoted by the Piedmont Region - Directorate Innovation, Research and Universities.

The project, which took place in the period 2010-2013, aimed to develop innovative equipment for non-invasive diagnostics based on X-rays and neutrons to be applied to the study, restoration, preservation and enhancement of Cultural Heritage.
It is known that these sophisticated analytical techniques can make a major contribution to conservation science and to create a markedly interdisciplinary collaboration scenario.

The main part of the project consisted in setting at the CCR a new apparatus for digital radiography and tomography, after an initial phase of study and optimization. The innovative nature of the apparatus is the possibility to obtain real-time digital radiographic images of large surfaces (canvas and paintings on wood up to about 3.1 m x 2.7 m) viewable directly via computer in a short time (a few minutes per square meter). In Cultural Heritage field X-ray allows to get information on the preservation status and on the characteristics of the media, on the preparatory layers (identification of the underlying paintings, re-use of a previous work of art as a support) even allowing the identification of the original idea of artwork and the additional parts, on the materials and painting technique (methods, colour quality, identification of "pentimenti").

Regarding the tomography, the apparatus set-up at the CCR is unique, different from those used in medicine for the extreme flexibility, necessary in the study of works of art that are made of different materials and with different complexity in terms of size and nature. In particular, the new apparatus allows to view in a three-dimensional way the structure of large volume objects, such as furniture and wooden statues, with height of up 2.5 m and width of up to 2 m, simultaneously obtaining information on their state of preservation and construction techniques. Within the project the feasibility of other innovative techniques of imaging with X-rays and neutrons has also been studied. In particular, a set-up has been realized based on the technique of the K-edge (or differential radiography) allowing the mapping of chemical elements within the pictorial layers of the paintings thanks to the differences in X-ray absorption as a function of energy.

The achievement of the final results was possible thanks to the close cooperation between the involved Organizations, to the staff who helped to match-funding the project and to the scientific and technological expertise of the three partners. During the project were involved 24 peoples among researchers and technical staff of the University and INFN and 20 among restorers and technicians of the CCR. Nine fellowships for research training and research grants have been assigned to young doctorates and neo-graduates under thirty. The topics covered, both in terms of the realization and characterization of the apparatus both for the case studies, were the subject of 13 dissertations of master degrees in physics and science and technology of Cultural Heritage. Collaborations with the University of Bologna, Ferrara and Piemonte Orientale were activated to achieve the project goals. Some of the results in imaging with neutrons were obtained in large European laboratories such as the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxford, with the support of the CNR-ISC Section of Florence, and the Technische Universität München Forschungs-Neutronenquelle Heinz Maier-Leibnitz (FRM_II) in Monaco. Preliminary results were submitted during the years to the scientific community in 11 conferences including 6 international conferences, also participating to seminars, as the seminar by invitation at the Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France, Palais du Louvre, Paris (France) in October 2012.

Regarding the dissemination, several seminars for high school students have been carried out by participating in events such as the Summer Scientific Academy, or for the general public as the exhibition "Explorers of the Universe" (organized by the INFN) at the Regional Museum of Natural Sciences in Turin included in the path of ESOF2010 (Euro Science Open Forum 2010), the Researchers' Night 2013 and the exhibition DNA - Italy, by presenting the project and the results obtained both in the 2010 both in the 2013 edition.

In the figures are shown respectively, the control room of the radiographic/tomographic apparatus, a part of the radiographic/tomographic system developed in the neu_ART project and currently installed at the CCR, the quasi-monochromatic beam setup used for differential radiography, results of neutron tomography on two test bronze objects, one of the attractions at ESOF2010.


A. Re et al. "X-ray tomography of a soil block: a useful tool for the restoration of archaeological finds" Heritage Science 3: 4 (2015); doi:10.1186/s40494-015-0033-6

A. Re et al. "X-ray tomography of large wooden artworks: the case study of ”Doppio corpo” by Pietro Piffetti", Heritage Science 2014 2:19; doi:10.1186/s40494-014-0019-9

G. Mila et al. "The new X-ray imaging facility at the Centro Conservazione e Restauro "La Venaria Reale", Proceeding of "ART'14", 11/13 June 2014, Madrid, Spain, IND86 (2014), ISBN: 9788469705223

VV.AA. "Il Progetto neu_ART. Studi e applicazioni / Neutron and X-ray tomography and imaging for cultural heritage" Cronache 4, Editris (2013), ISBN: 9788889853344

E.A. Durisi et al. "Characterization of a neutron imaging setup at the INES facility",Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research A 726: 31-36 (2013)

Invited talk at the XCIX SIF (Italian Physics Society) congress held in Trieste in 2013: link