Oct 1, 2011 2:14 PM by Phil Rogers NBC
CHICAGO - New technology being developed in the United States could help solve one of the great art mysteries of all time. A lost Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece, in Italy, could finally be uncovered all thanks to a new device developed in Chicago.
In 1505, da Vinci began creating what was to have been his largest work, the Battle of Anghiari, at the famed Palazzo Vecchio. But only a section of the painting was ever completed. Dr. Robert Smither of the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois explains that Da Vinci didn't finish the rest of the painting because he was called away to Rome on an assignment for the pope.
Italian master Giorgio Vasari was commissioned to redecorate the space 60 years later with mammoth frescoes. The paintings, it is believed, were painted on new walls erected just a few centimeters in front of Leonardo's lost masterpiece.
At his lab west of Chicago, Dr. Smither has joined forces with the National Geographic Society to find Leonardo's missing treasure.
"Part of the mystery is finding it," Smither said. The first step in verifying the painting's existence involves beaming neutrons directly through Vasari's frescoes to the hidden wall behind.
"So, the neutrons are blasted and they go right thru the walls very nicely," explained Smither.
If all goes according to plan, the neutrons will convert metals like copper and aluminum in Leonardo's paint making them temporarily radioactive. Those metals will then send gamma rays back thru the wall which carry their own unique signature.
"If I see a gamma ray for mercury, I say you've got red paint," said Smither. "For the art world, this would be the sensation of the century."
Leonardo da Vinci, of course was, not just an artist, but also a scientist, and an inventor. Dr. Smither says he believes Leonardo would love what what is happening here.
"Oh I think he'd be pleased," Smither said. "He'd say that finally, science came thru!"
Vasari may have actually left a clue that he covered da Vinci's painting. There is a battle flag in one of his frescoes which reads in Latin, "seek and ye shall find."