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Materials under the magnifying glass

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Materials under the magnifying glassSpecific types of damage call for specific responses. Whether they be metals, stone and marble, brick and mortar, or wood and pigments, materials do not suffer in the same way. Some bacteria thrive on the oleaginous binders to be found in old paint, some insects devour manuscripts, and the humidity in old walls can allow fungi to prosper.
Damage of this kind concerns both masterpieces of heritage and more modest objects which are nevertheless testimonies of daily life, and sometimes examples of popular arts and traditions. An ever greater and more detailed knowledge of the structures of materials on a microscopic and molecular scale - an area where science and technology are making giant strides - opens up
new perspectives for the preservation and conservation of these testimonies.


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Materials under the magnifying glassTeams of chemists, biochemists and biologists who specialise in materials and who pool their knowledge in the service of heritage, cooperate very closely with other specialists such as conservators, art historians, museum curators, collectors, etc. Considerable progress can be made thanks to the analyses of samples in laboratories, resistance tests in situ, studies of the structures of buildings, processes for treating surfaces, etc.
These research projects very often involve specialised small and medium-sized companies, which are capable - thanks to their knowledge of a material - of providing specific solutions derived from those which they have developed for other applications. Technology transfer from industry to heritage and vice versa is very often the rule.

Brick architecture: what happens when the joints give way
Brick architecture, familiar to the inhabitants of many European countries, is ailing. Increasing pollution in towns is attacking the cement mortar joints. Several transnational projects have studied the nature and composition of Roman cements in order to perform restoration operations which are gentler and more durable than is presently possible. Another research partnership has also developed a new surface treatment to make mortar impermeable, using a mixture of silicon and biocides.

Materials under the magnifying glass

Microscopes on site
What do the Roman necropolis in Carmona (Andalucia), the castle of Herberstein (Austria), and the church of St Martin in Greene (Germany) have in common? All these monuments have frescoes which have been attacked by humidity and on which
a number of micro-organisms are feeding. European scientists and SMEs have worked together to identify them, taking minuscule samples of paint from them thanks to a
"non-invasive" technology. They then treated them with different methods in order to select the most appropriate remedy, both for the frescoes and for the health of the restorers.

Asphyxiating parasites
European researchers have found a way of avoiding using pesticides, which are harmful to the environment and to human health. It is sufficient to remove the oxygen from the air surrounding a work of art or a precious document for predators (insects, eggs, larvae, chrysalids) to succumb. An apparatus known as the Veloxy is the solution: the objects to be treated are placed inside it and it has already proved its worth on furniture and books. It is thanks to the complementary experience of two Italian SMEs, three research institutes (in Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom) and the Stockholm National History Museum that this project has been conducted successfully.

Materials under the magnifying glass

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