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Heritage Smells!
This innovative project (2010-2013) will look at the diagnostic value of the smell of heritage objects. We are all familiar with the smell of old books, but it has only recently been shown that the compounds emitted by paper provide clues about its composition and condition. Using appropriate portable tools, which have recently become available, it should in principle be possible to “sniff” objects in non-laboratory conditions and thus provide valuable information to the end-users. The increased interest in volatiles emitted by heritage objects (i.e. their smell) also comes from the fact that they constitute indoor-generated pollution. This is known to affect materials and objects in close (or not so close) contact but needs to be understood better. Also, some objects, particularly ethnographic objects, may have been treated with pesticides and their safest identification could be by instrumental sniffing. There are a number of applications for this approach and the Heritage Smells! project will lead the way towards introduction of small portable sniffing devices into conservation and management practice. UCL Centre for Sustainable Heritage will be particularly involved in research on book and plastic material identification and condition assessment based on non-destructive determination of volatiles emitted by the objects. To do this, we will use gas chromatography and mass spectrometry in the laboratory, and a portable mass spectrometric tool to be used in situ, in libraries, museums, archives and galleries. The data will need to be instantly available, and development of appropriate data processing tools will also be part of our task.
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