UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage


Systematic study of terahertz time-domain spectra of historically informed black inks


1 January 2013

The potential of terahertz-time domain spectroscopy (THz-TDS) as a diagnostic tool for studies of inks in historical documents is investigated in this paper. Transmission mode THz-TDS was performed on historically informed model writing and drawing inks. Carbon black, bistre and sepia inks show featureless spectra between 5 and 75 cm (0.15-2.25 THz); however, their analysis still provided useful information on the interaction of terahertz radiation with amorphous materials. On the other hand, THz-TDS can be used to distinguish different iron gall inks with respect to the amount of iron(ii) sulfate contained, as sharp spectral features are observed for inks containing different ratios of iron(ii) sulfate to tannic or gallic acid. Additionally, copper sulfate was found to modify the structure of iron(ii) precipitate. Furthermore, Principal Component Analysis (PCA) applied to THz-TDS spectra, highlights changes in iron gall inks during thermal degradation, during which a decrease in the sharp spectral bands associated with iron(ii) sulfate is observed. ATR-FTIR spectroscopy combined with THz-TDS of dynamically heated ink samples indicate that this phenomenon is due to dehydration of iron(ii) sulfate heptahydrate. While this research demonstrates the potential of THz-TDS to improve monitoring of the chemical state of historical documents, the outcomes go beyond the heritage field, as it also helps to develop the theoretical knowledge on interactions between terahertz radiation and matter, particularly in studies of long-range symmetry (polymorphism) in complex molecular structures and the role played by the surrounding matrix, and also indicates the potential of THz-TDS for the optimization of contrast in terahertz imaging. This journal is © The Royal Society of Chemistry.

Systematic study of terahertz time-domain spectra of historically informed black inks. Analyst, 138 (17), 4859-4869. 

Bardon, T., Strlic, M., May, R.K., Taday, P.F. (2013)

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