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Museums Increasingly Turn To Scientists To Preserve Treasures

October 21, 2009

Museums are increasingly seeking help from chemists in an effort to understand and preserve the artistic and cultural heritage of the treasures in their collections. That’s the topic of the cover story in the current issue of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS’ weekly newsmagazine.

C&EN News Editor William Schultz points out that scientists have done research on art museum collections since at least the 1930s. Over the past 30 years, many museums have been adding scientists to their ranks, particularly chemists, in order to gain new cultural insights into the collections under their care. Called conservation science or cultural heritage science, the field now covers archaeological objects, fine arts collections, archives, buildings, monuments and more. The National Science Foundation recently provided a boost to this effort by announcing plans to issue grants to fund conservation science research specifically, the article notes.

The article describes how scientists are seeking ways to use non-destructive methods to analyze works of art or cultural heritage objects, to study the performance of plasters in order to maximize the preservation of building materials, and to investigate the original colors used in a Roman sculpture. Although conservation science efforts are going strong at larger museums, smaller museums still need help in this area. One conservation scientist emphasizes that “it’s critical to have scientists heavily engaged in studying cultural heritage objects.”

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