Brussels, 20 Jun 2003
A project team funded by the European Commission is developing a new method for monitoring environmental pollution in museums and galleries. The technology could eventually allow curators to continuously monitor the potential for damage using simple and affordable technology.
The MIMIC (microclimate indoor monitoring in cultural heritage preservation) project is part funded under the environment, energy and sustainable development section of the Fifth Framework Programme, and brings together partners from the UK, Italy, Spain, Denmark and the Netherlands.
In cooperation with centres of cultural heritage, such as the Alcázar in Segovia, Spain, the team used a number of inexpensive damage dosimeters (devices for detecting airborne particles) to assess the effects of combinations of pollutants, the threshold values for damage, and local microclimatic anomalies.
Unlike traditional assessment methods, which rely on pumping air into a detector, the damage dosimeters are passive, and much more suitable for use in sites of cultural heritage.
One of the project partners is the institute for atmospheric pollution at Italy's national research council (CNR). Franco De Santis, a researcher at the institute, explained: 'The passive sampler that we have designed has several advantages compared to the traditional ones: low production cost, noiselessness, small [size] and, most of all, the capability of monitoring multiple points of the same area at the same time.'
While the resulting data has enabled the team to learn much about the nature of environmental degradation, such as the damaging effects of combinations of pollutants, the team plans to take the project one step further.
Using specially treated quartz crystal technology, they hope to produce simple dosimeters that can be used and interpreted by curators and conservators on an ongoing basis, who can then take more considered decisions on issues such as whether or not a painting or tapestry should be moved or repaired.
In this way, together with the useful data already gathered during the project, the team hopes that its work will contribute to preserving Europe's sites of cultural heritage and works of art.