LONDON (July 19, 1:30 p.m. ET) — A science team at University College London (UCL) is playing an important part in a European Union research project: “Preservation of Plastic Artefacts in Museum Collections” (acronym “Popart”).
The work is addressing problems with a large and interesting group of synthetic materials in collections of modern objects from the 19th and 20th centuries. Popart is tackling the identification, characterization, deterioration and stabilization of plastics that are less stable than was once believed.
Characterizing plastic artifacts is a complex analytical problem, notes the team at UCL's Centre for Sustainable Heritage (CSH). The materials in most of them are extremely inhomogeneous, due either to production methods or to degradation processes. The collaborative project is developing a pan-European strategy to target better conservation and maintenance of plastics in museum collections.
CSH is particularly interested in analytical methods combined with chemometrics – an interdisciplinary way of extracting information from chemical systems by data-driven means – with a view to developing rapid, non-invasive identification and quantification techniques. The team is developing statistical tools to analyze spectral data from a portable near infrared (NIR) spectroscopic tool which uses a fiber optic probe.
Gianluca Pastorelli, a researcher at CSH, has developed a proof-of-concept identification application for the portable tool, which could be developed into a handy device for use outside the laboratory. CSH's research has been done in collaboration with Specim Imaging. The other UK partner in the multinational project is London's Victoria and Albert Museum.
Other Popart work involves exposing 25 samples of historic plastics in 11 different environments across Europe and Egypt, to see how plastic materials behave in environments with different climates and levels of pollution. This study will lead to development of realistic damage models.