University of Chicago Big Ideas Generator


Big Question: Exploring the Great Pyramid of Giza with cosmic-ray muons

University of Chicago Big Questions

Principal Investigator: Nadinne Moeller, Oriental Institute

Funding Type: Vision

Big Idea: Imaging the interior structure of the Great Pyramid of Giza would transform our understanding of the pyramid’s engineering and construction process, which could in turn allow us to gain insight into ancient Egyptian society itself. However, no man-made radiation can penetrate a structure this large. In 1970 Alvarez first used cosmic-ray muons to investigate the interior of a pyramid. In 2017, the Scan Pyramids team, using the same technique, reported on the discovery of a new very-large void in the Great Pyramid. However, although they used modern equipment, their system was not much larger than the one used by Alvarez's team and produced images of very limited resolution and contrast. Our Big Idea is to use detector technology currently deployed in high-energy physics to field very-large muon telescopes outside of the pyramid. This will allow for a high-resolution, high-contrast study of the internal structure based on tomography algorithms used in medical imaging. The approach will go beyond simply looking for voids, revealing new internal structural details of the pyramid. This work represents a unique collaboration between high-energy particle physicists with expertise in detector design and simulation, medical physicists with expertise in tomographic image reconstruction, and archaeologists specializing in ancient Egypt.

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