Heritage Smells!

Lead Research Organisation: University of Strathclyde
Department Name: Pure and Applied Chemistry

Abstract

Experts in science (chemistry, physics, statistics), heritage science and sensor technology will drive an ambitious but realistic proposal to develop diagnostic olfactory tools for heritage science. The new devices will be non-invasive, non-contact, portable and simple to use providing real-time data; making them well suited to address cultural heritage questions and survey collections, particularly for objects where potential hazards, access issues or sampling restrictions have precluded study to date. Implementation of energy efficient sensors to tackle heritage problems (rather than large equipment) will also help reduce the U.K.'s environmental footprint. Indeed, there is an overall lack of capacity in the heritage sector both in organic material analysis and volatile organic compound (VOC) monitoring; this research addresses such issues.

By merely 'sniffing' the air, questions regarding the environmental and conservation history, composition, condition or stability of objects will be answered. This will empower collections custodians and allow informed decisions about the acquisition, storage, conservation, display and long-term preservation of items, whilst also ensuring the health of those accessing public and private collections.

Three key interconnected challenges have been identified where timely research will give the UK a leading position providing new knowledge, expertise and technical developments, informing practitioners in heritage-user defined problem areas.

1: The past use of hazardous chemicals to disinfect/disinfest objects presents risks to those handling or accessing objects. Within this challenge objects will be 'sniffed' to determine if they have undergone such treatments. The data will allow informed conservation /research decisions regarding handling, display, loan and access. Key deliverables include: improvement of scholarly, public and native community use and engagement with cultural heritage and collection preservation, and development of new knowledge data bases that will be used to train portable sensing systems designed for high-throughput object screening.

2: Since the beginning of last century observation and analyses have established that paper is unstable. A by-product of the deterioration process is the production of VOCs. In this challenge a well characterized set of papers will be 'sniffed' to identify target indicators that imply paper instability. A key deliverable will be the development and application of non-invasive portable sampling tools for paper-based collections that can be used to provide rapid on-site analysis of stability and risk.

3: Heritage institutions are continually acquiring objects that contain synthetic, complex and inherently unstable modern materials. The composition and condition of such objects are extremely difficult to characterise and assess. A unique approach will be taken to tackle this problem: measurement of VOCs emitted by modern materials. The data will be used to inform heritage users of object composition and materials instability; interpretation of 'object smell' has not previously been exploited in this way. A key deliverable is development of a new tool for the identification of modern materials at risk allowing mitigation methods to be implemented to retard chemical and/or biological deterioration.

This proposal therefore seeks to develop VOC sampling tools to address these challenges without the need for complex or costly instrumentation. Indeed very few heritage institutions have access to laboratory equipment and such studies are impossible to implement. The outcome of this research (development of hand held portable low cost sensors) will be of wide benefit to heritage-users and open the research door to thousands of smaller institutions (museums, galleries, libraries, historic houses) and private collectors.

Planned Impact

The outputs of this multi/interdisciplinary research project will create a positive and considerable impact on a diverse group of beneficiaries. Data, generated in all research challenges will benefit the heritage sector by providing fundamental knowledge that can be applied to better understand cultural heritage collections (composition, construction and condition) and improve the ability to interpret, represent and preserve such collections. Understanding of environmental impact and deterioration mechanisms will be improved and curators, conservators and applied scientists will use the information to create methods of analysis, develop treatments, modify existing conservation practice (storage, design) and access arrangements. Such objectives will be achieved within 1 - 5 years of published research outputs. Heritage sector partners will ensure sector dissemination and relevance. The developing sensing systems, designed to 'sniff' and interpret emission profiles, will also benefit academics and industrial partners working in sensor technology. Staff, scholars and the public, interacting with cultural heritage objects, will benefit as VOC monitoring will identify environments with the potential to cause ill-health and lead guidance for handling and access based on assessment of risk. The heritage science sector will benefit immediately by increasing capacity in VOC research and providing staff with the required multidisciplinary training for contribution to UK heritage science research.

The sensing systems proposed are small, low cost and portable allowing on-site analysis and interpretation without the need for expensive, complex laboratory equipment. Therefore the research will not only impact upon universities/large institutions but will permit research in smaller, local institutions facing similar problems (see Case for Support) but without resources to tackle them. Thus people not normally engaged in research will better understand their collections by assessing stability and estimating risk; dissemination, training and outreach activities will be required to deliver this medium term (5-10 years) objective.

Longer term, the accumulated emission profiles and analyte specific concentration data, will inform other sectors, such as the food industry (pesticide screening), healthcare (breath diagnostics) and security (detection of compounds with low vapour pressures). The research outputs will also have a direct social and future political impact with regard to the composition/ concentration of compounds in the air we breathe. To reduce the UK's carbon footprint government legislation is driving the construction/building industries to provide more airtight homes. However indoor generated pollutants (similar to those found in heritage science where this practice is mirrored in new storage/display design) then build up to levels potentially deleterious to health. The emission profiles, VOC data and sensor developments in this proposal will directly impact on this future area of concern.

Attracting UK and international visitors to heritage partners is vital to UK cultural life and economy (via tourism). The idea of 'smell' and advanced analytical tools make this research particularly valuable in increasing public engagement with heritage and science thus improving communication and mutual understanding.

Impact will be facilitated by the communications/engagement plans for both specialists and the public (see Impact Plan). Assistance from the Sensor and Instrumentation KTN and presentations at international events (chemistry, physics, spectroscopy, sensors, environmental) will ensure transfer of information across sectors out with heritage science. VOC training workshops will be given at the UoS whilst public interaction will be encouraged at the BM workshop. The investigators firmly believe this research to be t

Publications

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Description 1. This multi-disciplinary research identified three key challenge areas where solutions to fundamental questions needed to be urgently addressed to provide new expertise and methods of analyses to improve on-site conservation practice and technological advancement for the benefit of society by increasing the lifetime of objects held in cultural heritage institutions, galleries and private collections. The first challenge area focussed on the assessment and examination of modern materials, that are complex, inherently unstable therefore currently causing significant challenges in heritage collections. The second challenge area focussed on chemically treated objects (see 2. Below) and the third challenge area looked at paper which, if made in the late 19th c, is also unstable and the threat to global collections is immense. In this research project new methods of analyses were developed to examine all three challenge categories in a non-invasive way. Specifically the air around an object was trapped and analysed to gain an understanding of object composition, stability and previous treatment history. This is a significant step forward for heritage science as it allowed object examination without the need to sample, or touch (even with lasers) the object. This is the ultimate conservation tool; permitting object assessment without any interaction or addition risk to the collection.
2. The pesticide challenge area is noteworthy. Ethnographic and natural history collections pose a unique challenge as they will have been treated with chemical hazards to protect them from pests. Assessing the risk of such collections is imperative for those who restore, study, conserve and even view such objects. Moreover, repatriation of objects to indigenous populations would be risky without knowing if the objects contained any chemical hazards. Here, new methods of analysis were determined to permit on-site, non-invasive object sampling by detection of vapour phase pesticides. New screening techniques were also developed to detect inorganic based, non-volatile, species such as mercury. These methods will provide custodians of collections safer handling and accessibility based on real assessment of current risk.
3. Over the course of the research, the outreach achieved was tremendous. New research collaborations were created with the Library of Congress, Washington D.C. and Arizona State Museum. Both PhD students gained new experiences as they had the opportunity to study at these institutions (extra grants were awarded to support these knowledge exchange visits). Moreover, requests for collaboration were constant over the research period with new collaborations developed with many heritage organisations here in the U.K. in Europe and in Australia. Over 20 new institutions were engaged with the research that were not initially identified as project partners, providing evidence of the impact of this work in heritage science.
4. It was hoped that a commercially available portable sampling device could be modified and adapted to provide real-time on-site measurement data for the volatiles collected around an object. However despite assessing three different kinds of commercially available portable mass spectrometers, the chemical pattern measured was too complicated to be interpreted and problems with the current instrumental designs prevented this aim.
Exploitation Route New methods of analyses have already been implemented in over 20 institutions worldwide and new requests are still being received. It is predicted that the number of collaborative institutions will continue to grow. The methods are equally transferrable to measure the indoor air environment.
Since the chemical patterns around objects have been identified for a range of polymers, papers and treated objects, collaboration with instrument manufacturers is now possible to design an instrument that targets key analytes. Although the instruments currently on the market can't achieve this goal, with the significant body of chemical information acquired over the course of this research it is expected that focussed modification can be made to provide portable instruments that can be used to examine object emissions on-site.
The methods of analyses developed to determine the presence of selected pesticides could have significant impact in the food industry. Currently processes used for shipments or containers coming into the U.K. is a laborious process taking 2 - 3 days. If a portable tool could be used to sniff the air inside a container to register the use of an unauthorised pesticide, or indeed to monitor concentrations, this would cause a shift change in food screening methods.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://www.strath.ac.uk/chemistry/staff/academic/lorrainegibson/
 
Description Damage to culturally significant artefacts from pest infestation or mould growth is of great concern in the heritage sector and has presented problems that have been explored for over 100 years. In order to preserve artefacts and museum objects, it is essential that the environments in which they are kept are free from insects or microorganisms that accelerate deterioration of the object. However, identification of the chemicals used over the years in heritage environments presents a formidable challenge. This challenge was also recognised by the Native American Hopi tribe of Northern Arizona, who under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) 1990, were legally empowered to reclaim collection objects of spiritual significance from the Peabody Museum. The objects had been under the custodianship of the museum for a century and, as such, had been treated with many chemicals including arsenical and mercuric salts which would have rendered them toxic and unsuitable for return to cultural use. This is now a globally recognised problem; how can museums ensure objects are 'safe' permitting their handling, conservation, exhibition and repatriation? The methods developed during the course of this research provide economical methods of assessment that can be used on-site providing real-time data to reduce the risk and thus improve the quality of life and health of those engaged with the historical objects. Within the lifetime of this project 15 case studies were conducted to help institutions with specific 'pesticide-related' problems. For example, objects due for exhibition in the British Museum were examined to ensure they were 'safe' before being exhibited in the great hall. Manuscripts have been accessed at the British Museum, the RAF museum, the Museum of London, the Glasgow University Archives, the National Archives of Scotland, the Science Museum to ensure that the public, or conservators working on the objects were not exposed to chemical hazards. The air assessment can also be used to inform policy makers about the contribution of volatile gases to the indoor air environment within which they are housed. For example the BSI document PAS198 helped to inform information on expected gaseous pollutants in the indoor air of cultural institutions.
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description AHRC/EPSRC scholarship scheme
Amount £3,500 (GBP)
Funding ID LOC220 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2012 
End 03/2012
 
Description Case study RAF museum 
Organisation Royal Air Force Museum
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution The RAF museum contacted the researchers at the University of Strathclyde to monitor inside some storage rooms. The indoor air quality was thought to be bad causing staff to experience some headaches. It was suspected that the air may be contaminated with chemical hazards emitted from the, largely, paper based collections. However this was not proven after monitoring inside the storage locations.
Collaborator Contribution No contributions
Impact This was an informative case study to help the end-user assess risk within his own collection. The data have not been published. Involved conservation scientists and chemists.
Start Year 2012
 
Description Case study Science Museum 
Organisation Science Museum Group
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Case study to examine emissions from polymeric based materials to better understand their stability
Collaborator Contribution none
Impact End user gained knowledge about the collections and material stability, no publications.
Start Year 2012
 
Description Case study with The British Library 
Organisation British Museum
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution A collection of Mexican leather garments were deteriorating and emitting odorous vapours. Sampling was undertaken to better understand the chemical degradation pathways, assess mitigation of pollution and new storage methods and also to assess the indoor air quality.
Collaborator Contribution Catherine Higgitt at the British Museum facilitated this collaboration
Impact Case study involved chemists, conservators and curators. Output: publication in Journal of Institute of Conservation, 2014.
Start Year 2012
 
Description Committee member of PAS 198 regulation document for museums, libraries and archives 
Organisation British Standards Institute (BSI Group)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Contributor : Contribution to the work of national or international committees and working groups
Start Year 2010
 
Description Museum of London case study 
Organisation Museum of London
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution A parchment that was being conserved had given off an odour. Suspecting chemical hazards we were asked to sample the air space around the parchment, however no chemical hazards were detected.
Collaborator Contribution Katherine Higgitt, UCL also collaborated on case studies with the Museum of London.
Impact Research involved chemists, curators, conservation scientists. The results have not been published.
Start Year 2012
 
Description National Gallery case study 
Organisation National Gallery, London
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution At the National Gallery of Scotland, 2 objects (a Dechamp suitcase and a Beuys postcard) were studied to examine both the composition of a polymer in the object and also the stability of the object. The air around both objects were sampled.
Collaborator Contribution Jim Tate (National Museums of Scotland) and Linda Ramsey (National Records of Scotland) facilitated the case study.
Impact Involved curators, conservation scientists, archivists, museum personnel and chemists. The results have not been formally published but presented at a number of conferences in the U.K. and internationally.
Start Year 2012
 
Description Swiss Cottage case study 
Organisation English Heritage
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution An collection of stuffed birds held in Swiss Cottage at Osbourne House, Isle of Wight was examined to determine the quality of the air in the storage cabinets prior to their maintenance. Although naphthalene, chloronapthalene and camphor were detected in the air space, the concentrations were shown to be to low to be of any risk to human health; allowing access to the collection.
Collaborator Contribution Dave Thickett of English Hertiage set up the collaboration and helped during sampling.
Impact The results have been presented at international conferences (IAQ, Praque, ICOM-CC Sydney). The work involved chemists, curators, conservation scientists.
Start Year 2011
 
Description University of Glasgow Archives 
Organisation University of Glasgow
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The Archive contacted our team because they had a herbarium with over 200 specimens from Leiden Botanical Gardens which had potentially been treated with DDT although no historical treatment references were found. The herbarium was sampled to make sure that no chemical hazards remained on the surface of the object.
Collaborator Contribution The partners did not sample at this location
Impact The information was used in-house to better handle the object, the results were not published.
Start Year 2012
 
Description Analytical methods committee 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact An event was organised at the Diamond Light Source to inform practitioners about the use of the facility for conservation. Here there was the opportunity to describe to practitioners how the beam lines could be used to examine historical artefacts.

Knowledge exchange, providing new information to end users.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description British Museum Zoom-In event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Set up workshops and demonstrations for the public (adults and children) to participate in heritage smells experiments.. Provided information on pesticides, paper degradation and polymers and hands-on experiments were used to engage the public. The workshops were extremely busy the full day in the Great Hall of the British Museum and we had the opportunity answer questions from the public from all different backgrounds and nationalities.

Increased awareness of the heritage science grant and how it can better inform practitioners but also help keep our cultural heritage for future generations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Heritage Science Scotland: Historic Scotland, Glasgow 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited talk about Heritage Smells to announce the new multidisciplinary research programme

Generated interest in partners that were not initially involved in the project, eg. led to a case study at the National Gallery of Scotland.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Heritage Smells workshop at British Library 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact An evening comedy event was staged with a British Comedy group 'Festival of the Spoken Nerd'. On stage they interviewed two Co-I's on the Heritage Smells project to inform the public about our ongoing research with British Library. At the interval of the comedy show we had a Heritage Smells workshop where the public were invited to participate in experiments that demonstrated smells around objects (making perfume, simple chromatography experiments, sensing smells from books).

The event was an ideal showcase to connect Science with the public and reach audiences that we wouldn't otherwise have reached during the grant period.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Media interest 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Press release of the Heritage Smells grant at the university of Strathclyde was covered in over 40 newspapers (leading articles appeared in the Guardian, The Herald, The Observer, the Scotsman and the Evening Times). In addition over 50 on-line publications covered the press release.

National awareness of the heritage smells grant. It was also mentioned on the Chris Evans Radio 2 Breakfast Show. Moreover the press release generated other public engagement activities such as interviews with Radio New Zealand (2011), Radio Scotland (2011/2012), BBC Radio 4 (2012) and an interview for Belgian National Television 'VRT Canvas: The Smell of a Book'.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011,2012
 
Description Parliamentary Update 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/parliamentarians
Results and Impact To generate support for future funding in cultural heritage to extend the heritage smells, and similar heritage science, funding.

Notable interest from MPs about the success of the AHRC/EPSRC Science and Heritage Programme.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010,2013
 
Description Presentation at National Museum of Flight 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact To discuss potential case studies at the museum of flight to look at emissions from rubber tyres which have been stored for the last 100 y and to examine aircraft to see if the interior needs conservation/treatment.

Case studies were developed to look at a variety of rubber objects and their emission profiles.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Public engagement 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact As part of Manchester Science Festival a workshop on Heritage Smells was given at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry. Public engagement activities with hands-on experiments and demonstrations to explain the science behind the research.

An increased understanding of how science can impact on cultural heritage.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description University of Amsterdam 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Generated discussion about the potential use of non-invasive methods of analysis in heritage collections.

New collaboration initiated with a conservator who specialises in the emissions from exhibitions, or exhibitors who were well known to 'add smells' to their exhibits.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description University of Ljubljana 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Generated discussion about the ways in which analytical chemistry can be used to connect with heritage science.

New information given to students.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013