Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory

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The Film Scanning and Reanalysis Project

Scientists on a search-and-rescue mission find and scan nuclear weapons test films—before they disintegrate—and find surprises as they reanalyze the images with modern techniques.
July 1, 2015
The Film Scanning

Lawrence Livermore’s Greg Spriggs (foreground) and Alan Carr, Los Alamos National Laboratory historian, dig through boxes of films in the vast Los Alamos archives. Each box may hold up to 50 films that may or may not be test films. All must be checked. (Photo: Los Alamos)


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  • Clay Dillingham
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Running one of the old shrunken and buckled films through a sprocket-type scanner just rips it up.

Photographers made thousands of atmospheric-test films, but they ended up scattered across the nuclear weapons complex. The first task in reanalyzing them with modern methods involves tracking each one down. Project leader Greg Spriggs of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is still working to find and retrieve the films. He then began the painstaking process of hand-feeding the filmstrips through a digital scanner. Image processing software removes the guesswork that plagued earlier analyses of yield estimates calculated from the 1940s through the early 1960s.

Spriggs has brought in an Academy Award-winning Hollywood film consultant to assist with preserving the films. “Because these films represent a unique set of important data that are irreplaceable, they are being handled and preserved with great care by film professionals,” Spriggs says. “They know the importance of their work and are dedicated to ensuring these data will be there for future use in national security science.”