A team of researchers led by Ray Phaneuf, a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Maryland, College Park, has partnered with The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore to investigate less labor-intensive ways to protect silver artifacts from tarnishing.
The new techniques, which might keep silver surfaces shiny for longer than traditional methods, could help ensure that historically important artifacts are preserved for future generations to learn from and enjoy. The researchers will present their work at the AVS 59th International Symposium and Exhibition, held Oct. 28 – Nov. 2, in Tampa, Fla.
Silver tarnishes when hydrogen sulfide in the air reacts with the silver, forming an unsightly black layer of silver sulfide on the surface of the artifact. If the tarnish appears on Grandma's silver flatware set, a little polisher and some elbow grease will easily remove it. But polishing, which works by dissolving or grinding away the silver-sulfide layer, can also remove some of the underlying silver, an undesirable outcome for priceless works of art.
"Untreated silver beautifully reflects white light," Phaneuf explains. "You don't want the protective film to create interference effects that make it look blue or yellow." The expert eyes of art conservators will also help the researchers judge their success in this respect.
Phaneuf says that collaborating museums may soon allow the team to test their methods on forgeries of silver artifacts, and by year's end the team should be working with genuine pieces. "There is no shortage of complex objects this method might be applied to," Phaneuf notes. "There is a lot of interest now in the conservation community in how nanotechnology and other high technologies can be used to preserve art."
Della Miller | EurekAlert!
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