"You can smell vinegar when you open the cans, which is one of the byproducts of the decomposition process of these films," Spriggs said. "We know that these films are on the brink of decomposing to the point where they'll become useless. The data that we're collecting now must be preserved in a digital form because no matter how well you treat the films, no matter how well you preserve or store them, they will decompose. They're made out of organic material, and organic material decomposes. So this is it. We got to this project just in time to save the data."
'Answers were off by 30 percent'
From its inception, the project presented a series of hurdles. It took several years to locate the films, and when Spriggs did get his hands on the first few, he didn't have a scanner that could reproduce the optical density on the films. It took about a year to convert a Hollywood-style scanner into one that could provide the level of scientific accuracy required. Then he had to locate the data sheets for the test, because without knowing the camera location, its speed and focal length, he wouldn't be able to analyze the films. Once Spriggs did complete the first scans and roll his sleeves up for the analysis, he discovered that much of the data published were wrong. All the films would need to be reanalyzed.
Physicist declassifies rescued nuclear test films | Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory