Scientists from the Egypto-international ScanPyramids Project recently uncovered a 30-meter long chamber inside the Great Pyramid of Giza (Khufu Pyramid) and they’re calling it “ScanPyramids Big Void.” This is the first major space found inside the Khufu Pyramid since the nineteenth century. The results were recently published in the journal Nature. With the support of La Fondation Dassault Systèmes and Emissive, the scientists used 3D and virtual technologies to offer visitors a new way of exploring inside the pyramid by providing an unprecedented virtual reality experience.
Since October 25, 2015, the Faculty of Engineers at Cairo University and the Heritage Innovation Preservation (HIP) Institute have been working on the ScanPyramids Project with the purpose of 3D scanning the great pyramids of Egypt (Khufu, Khafre, Bent and Red). As a mission under the authority of the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, the project combines a variety of non-invasive and non-destructive techniques in an attempt to reveal internal structures and to better understand both their layout and their construction.
Visitors only need a virtual reality headset to walk through the corridors in the Grand Gallery, the Queen’s Chamber, and see the pyramid’s massive stones as if they were real. There’s currently a prototype of the virtual reality experience that showcases how immersive learning activities are shaping the future of education.
Mehdi Tayoubi, president and co-founder of the HIP Institute in France and one of the leaders of the study says, “What is new in the world of virtual reality is that from now on you are not isolated but there are several of us. You’re in a group, you can take a tour with your family. And you can access places which you usually can’t in the real pyramid.”
La Fondation Dassault Systèmes selected the ScanPyramids Project to help further its mission of transforming the future of education and research by leveraging 3D technology and virtual reality to bring multidisciplinary teams together in a collaboration. Thanks to Emissive, which designs and develops unique immersive experiences and works alongside its customers on these innovative technologies, the immersion offers a better understanding of the reality inside of the pyramid.
In order to see inside the pyramid, experts used a combination of imaging technologies such as infrared thermography, muons radiography, simulation and 3D reconstruction. Muon particles originate from cosmic rays and atoms of Earth’s upper atmosphere. About 10,000 muons are impacting a square meter of the Earth’s surface every minute. The particles can penetrate hundreds of yards into the pyramid’s stones and are recorded using sensitive muon detectors.
In December 2015, physicist Kunihiro Morishima of Nagoya University, Japan, and his colleagues installed muon detectors inside the Queen’s chamber, where they would try to detect muons passing through the pyramid from above.
“Muon tomography has really improved a lot due to its use on the pyramid and we think that muography will have other applications in other fields. But we also wanted to innovate and imagine devices to allow the wider public to understand what this pyramid is, understand it from within,” says Tayoubi. “Thanks to this technique, we make it possible to teleport ourselves to Egypt, inside the pyramid, as a group and with a guide.”
Constructed from limestone and granite blocks, the Great Pyramid is the last of the Seven Wonders to survive the Ancient World. At 479 feet, it was the tallest man-made structure for more than 4,000 years until the Eiffel Tower in Paris in 1889. It was constructed by the Pharaoh Khufu (also known as Cheops), who reigned from 2509–2483 BC.
Next on the list for Tayoubi is to 3D scan Khafre’s (also known as Chephren’s) Pyramid, Egypt’s second largest pyramid. In the late 1960s, muon imaging was carried out by a team led by Nobel-prize winning physicist Luis Alvarez. They used spark chambers as detectors and used magnetic tape to record the cosmic-ray data. Although they reported no new chambers in the areas scanned, Tayoubi remains optimistic since the technology has improved significantly since the 1960s.
“I think Alvarez was a real visionary guy,” says Tayoubi. “He had the right idea, maybe too early. Our dream would be to give a tribute to Alvarez and redo the Khafre experiment, to see if he was right.”
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