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Fine-Tuning Fine Art With Lasers

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Bianca
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« on: November 09, 2008, 05:08:12 pm »











                                               Fine-Tuning Fine Art With Lasers






ScienceDaily
(Sep. 11, 2002)
Art conservators have been slow to adopt lasers as restoration tools, preferring their trusty scalpels and solvents to untried technologies. But the first systematic study of the long-term effects of lasers on paintings should help ease their doubts: the results show that lasers can be superior restoration tools without sacrificing the safety of priceless works of art.

The findings are reported in the Sept. 15 print edition of Analytical Chemistry, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.

European researchers studied the physical and chemical changes that occurred in various paint materials exposed to ultraviolet laser light, in order to address some of the unanswered questions about the effects of laser cleaning.

They found that lasers did no harm to paintings originally coated with varnish -- an extremely common practice with older paintings on canvas -- as long a very thin layer of varnish was left on the surface. For unvarnished paintings, chemical changes were few and easily controlled by manipulating the laser parameters. The study also showed the effects to be primarily photochemical -- initiated by light. This runs contrary to widespread concern that material adjacent to the laser beam could suffer damage from incidental heating.

The research is part of a cooperative project funded by the European Union to create a laser-based unit for cleaning valuable artwork.

The idea behind the project is that laser light, directed by a software-controlled workstation, can delicately remove varnish and dirt from paintings and painted artifacts, leaving the underlying pigments unharmed. The process can be monitored by a tool called laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS), which analyzes the specific make-up of the plume produced by the laser as it removes material. This helps avoid damaging the artwork itself.

Over time, paintings accumulate dirt and soot; coatings of protective varnish grow hazy; and smugglers apply layers of paint to disguise their illicit freight. Natural disasters can also jeopardize precious national treasures, as illustrated by the recent flooding in Europe. While many cultural artifacts seem to have been spared from serious damage in the floods, conservators will probably have to deal with the effects of humidity and black crust formation, according to Marta Castillejo, Ph.D., a research scientist with the Spanish Council for Scientific Research and an author of the paper. "In some cases, lasers could be of help," she says, "especially when traditional methods fail."
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