The Future Is Here and It Wants You To Try Its Stuff

10 04 2013

The Future is knocking at your door with a suitcase full of things it would like to demo on your carpet, your walls, your stovetop.  I’m thinking, I’d like to let it in. I’ve got a world of artwork to conserve and I want to know all about the new materials and methods that just could transform my work.

Some of you may know that I have occasionally perused a blog called Technovelgy, which explores the inventions created in fiction as they are brought into reality by science. Since 2007, it has been fun to daydream and write about how those things could be used in my day-to-day. But now, it is becoming possible. Some of it is still out of reach because of expense, but even the pricier things might now be available through collaboration with a university or corporation who own them. I already use newer fabrics to replace paper-based materials  in my lab, and I’m hearing about other conservators who are experimenting with things I’d like to try. This is getting exciting!

We’ve got 3-d printers, nanocellulose, hand-held instrumental analysis, data modeling, huge informational databases, vast social networks for fast exchange of information and brainstorming- and the Google Glasses to use them,  Awareness of the need for new ways to reduce water and paper use, find alternatives to toxic chemicals, and gentler treatment practices is driving new ways of working. Color matching, pattern matching, new ways of filling losses that are both reversible and detectable, but not visually or chemically intrusive – so many possibilities!

Wired has a very interesting aggregation of research into biological materials science.  Mussels, Chitons, Sea Cucumbers, Venus’s Flower Basket sponges…ooh. New adhesives, new framing and exhibit methods, new tools!

Of course, all this experimentation comes with potential iatrogenic effects. Today’s conservators are constantly trying to fix what past “innovators” broke.  Mr. Barrow, for example, has gifted us with some interesting problems. What exactly WILL happen when we introduce biomaterials like sponge glass and superstrong mussel glue? And, what will we need to do to conserve artwork and historic documents made of bioluminescent inks? Tell you what, though. I’m really looking forward to my self-sharpening scalpels.

If I were a grad student right now, the choices for research would seem so inviting. As it is, I will muddle along, daydreaming, and looking for every opportunity to partner with someone with the right Sci-Fi stuff.  I wonder what’s up in the MIT Labs?

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