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?

Science Fiction and Conservation

7 12 2007

Every once in a while I come across an article that sends me into my own little sci-fi world where I have all the world and time to tinker with new technologies- along with a miraculously improved understanding of chemistry and physics. I daydream about various ways nanotech can change our work (the way we do it and the things we will have to work on). There’s the fantasy of setting loose a bunch of nanobots to eat stubborn adhesive. I’m not really a trekkie, but I do like the idea of using the Replicator to make a whole new version of whatever burnt, crispy document I might have on hand. And what are we going to do, exactly, about bio-lumenescent art, e-inks, and all the new forms of paper, drawing and writing implements that will be coming our way?

The Tate, of course, does an inspiring job of confronting conservation of time-based and other strangely-behaved media. That’s a whole other conversation.

What I really want to talk about is this:

Imagine my happiness to find a website devoted to science fiction made real!

The article cited above discusses implantation of “fluorescent polymer microbeads ” to create a diagnostic tattoo in human skin. It also mentions RFID ink, to be used for tagging animals. Why can we not use these things? Invisible RFID ink has its’ obvious applications for marking and retrieving things, so I’m not going to go very far discussing it because I’m sure someone, somewhere, is on it. If it can be used to find a soldier wandering in the desert, surely it can be used to find a book in a library, right?

But microbead implants? Tattoos for paper! What could we detect in paper? Could they be inserted into paper and then withdrawn as needed? If yes, then maybe they could indicate the presence or absence of all kinds of stuff when we treat, or contemplate treating, paper. Lignin, pH, solvents, stain reduction agents? Changes in pigment due to treatment? What would it do to paper over time? Nothing? Horrible unforeseen consequences?

Oh, if I only had a lab. And a bigger brain.

Ironically enough, looking at the original Texas A&M article, I noted this:

“This invention is protected under U.S. Patent No. 6,485,703 issued November 26, 2002. The A&M System Technology Licensing Office is currently seeking one or more industrial partners to facilitate commercialization of the procedure. For more information about licensing this technology, please contact Page Heller at or 979-847-8682. Please reference TAMUS Project #1240.”

The contact person’s last name is Heller. Mine too. Welcome to the Twilight Zone. doodoo doodoo doodoo doodoo…

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