Teresa Duncan, Museum Conservation Institute, Smithsonian Institution

In the cleaning of works of art, conservators rely on an array of cleaning materials, all with different physical properties best suited to specific applications. One class of cleaning materials are gels, which have been found to be useful for cleaning a wide-range of surfaces in cases where using free-flowing solvent is either ineffective or inappropriate. The first part of this talk will cover a portion of my dissertation research, conducted at Georgetown University and the National Gallery of Art, exploring the development and characterization of soft, peelable organogels and their application to removing oxidized varnish. The second part of this talk will delve into a more fundamental study performed at the National Institute of Standards and Technology as a postdoctoral fellow, focusing on how the properties of gels and elastomers can be tuned to best remove solid grime from substrates. To explore the material requirements necessary for effective cleaning, a method was devised to measure the contact between soft cleaning materials and either rough, clean substrates or smooth, soil-coated substrates. Efficient removal of solid particulates from a substrate using soft cleaning materials was shown to rely on two material requirements: 1) good contact between the cleaning material and substrate and 2) favorable adhesion between the cleaning material and particulates. The third, and last, portion of this talk will highlight how these fundamental facets of the cleaning process are relevant for direct applications in conservation treatment. Specifically, a study was performed to gather a better understanding of how cleaning materials could be used for the removal of soot from rough papers. This work was performed during a year-long postdoctoral fellowship at Smithsonian Institution’s Museum Conservation Institute. These research efforts have striven to provide conservators and scientists with fundamental and applied knowledge that will aid in more effective cleaning, either through the adaptation of traditional materials or the design of new ones.