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Future Technology Protecting the Past

When you are asked to look behind the scenes at the Natural History Museum, you don’t say no. I was greeted by one of the head conservators, Gill Comerford, to discuss how she could improve the Oddy test. I was thinking ‘springwatch’ but was very much mistaken.

The Oddy test is the way the conservators assess whether a material is suitable to use in their storage cases and stands to house ancient and delicate artefacts. This test is an accelerated wear test based on the corrosion of three metal coupons by the material under test in a humid atmosphere which is heated for four weeks.

There are, however, problems with the method. Firstly, it has subjective, unmeasurable outcomes as the corrosion extent is judged as a pass or fail by individuals. It also gives no information as to what has caused any failure and whether the failure happened quickly or slowly.

We suggested using both headspace solid phase microextraction with gas chromatography mass spectrometry (HS-SPME-GC-MS) to identify the compounds emitted from the test materials and selected ion flow tube mass spectrometry (SIFT-MS) to give a quick screen for known corrosive materials.

The work we carried out is detailed in our application note AS197. If you would like to find out more about how we did the work or about volatile emission testing, then please contact us, either by email, or by calling the office on +44 (0)1223 279210.

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