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?





All Your Shreds Are Belong To Us

14 12 2011

I’m always interested in stories about merging new technologies and old, analog and digital, human and computer teams.  Here’s a good one:  DARPA ran a contest last month, with a $50,000 prize,  in which contestants were asked to use technologies to re-assemble shredded documents. The winning team, All Your Shreds Are Belong To Us, “used custom-coded, computer-vision algorithms to suggest fragment pairings to human assemblers for verification.   In total, the winning team spent nearly 600 man-hours developing algorithms and piecing together documents that were shredded into more than 10,000 pieces.”    Here are some photos.   The forum discussions look pretty interesting.

Yeah, I think that type of help could come in handy for re-assembling  letters destroyed by iron-gall ink such as those in my photo above.  And I’d like to know more about those mysterious “human assemblers” and their techniques!





A 24 minute Ode to Mylar

12 06 2010

This video is so good for so many different reasons – the lab equipment, the chemical handling, the helpful women in hotpants, the industrial hopes and dreams! Enjoy!





Boggles The Mind

3 02 2010

Dan Cull asked about sci-fi and conservation and reminded me that it might be time to revisit Technovelgy, so off I went and found this:

Self-folding Origami is basically all about how DARPA is doing research into shape-shifting materials, a merger of material and computer so that an object is not limited by it’s original form or purpose.  Form follows function?  Not really.

This whole article is mind-boggling to me, for so many reasons.  First, that the government is doing this research.  Second…well…the matrix is real?  There is no spoon?

Here are some excerpts from the AFCEA article.  Note the use of the term “infochemistry”.  Now that’s a point of interest for library/chemistry geeks, isn’t it?

Although the concept of self-forming matter smacks of science fiction, Zakin says that considerable progress has been made in proving the technology’s underlying science. Developing programmable matter is also its own new field of study: infochemistry, which blends several different sciences such as chemistry, information theory and control engineering to build information directly into materials.

An important part of infochemistry is what Zakin describes as mesomatter, the particles needed to build structures….Not only does this combination of data and material allow for dynamic flexibility in creating structures, but he says that it can potentially create new states of matter. Conventional materials can transition from liquids to solids, but these new “infomaterials” can have infosolids, where the matter is solid and its information is localized; “infoliquids” where both the material and information are flowing, and any number of combinations in between.

WOWcool, huh?  They are manipulating DNA strands, enzyme reactions, and playing with something called molecular Velcro and other methods of adhesion.  Contemplate the possibilities.  Consider that Phase 3, application development, is supposed to start in about a year. Amazing.  Get ready.





Get Out Your Umbrellas

30 06 2009

It’s going to be raining loose pages.  The Espresso Book Machine, available for lease for a mere $1500/month to bookstores everywhere (according this Boston Globe article) prints, trims and perfect binds books on demand all in a machine about the size of an old-style copy machine.  No fanning of pages, just milling on one pass and rollering glue on another.

I, for one, will be working on my dfa rebind skills.  I predict a repeat of the early days of binding – people will buy an unbound book and bring it to US for fancifying for their shelves.

Or not.  My library is about to embark on a book digitization project for which we do not have to pay, and I’m pretty sure the resulting POD books will be created in a manner similar to this.  Do I have the ability to influence the way in which they are bound?  Probably not.  Will I reject the project? Nope.

Here is an interesting blog post from IF on the topic, the most intriguing aspect of which, to me, is the possibility of personal customization of book covers.

And here is what Gary Frost has to say.





Tomorrow’s Ephemera Today

23 01 2009

Something called Paper Camp took place this past weekend in London, and some very interesting experiments were performed.   This person blogged about it.  I kind of wish I had been there, but my brain might have exploded from all the creativity, so it’s probably safer that I wasn’t.

However.  Prepare to deal with this in the conservation lab of the future.  Or of next week.





Writing Implements of the Future

6 11 2008

Researchers at Osaka University have come up with a pen that “writes” at the atomic level.  The folks at sci-fi/technology site Technovelgy, who paid to read the full article at Science Magazine, say “The process replaces individual atoms of tin with silicon”. Plus they cite Bladerunner.

So, I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking: How would that be useful in conservation work?  Can it use other elements?  Can we use it for lead-white conversion? Careful placement of chelators?  Do I have to wait 50 years to get one?  Will there be an i-pen version?  Could we use the drawing tools in GIMP? 0h – and we could sign our work in super secret ways, and future historians would write dissertations on the evolution of binder’s tickets, macro to micro.

Ooooh.  Who knows the power of the pen?








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