UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage


UCL ISH research on sniffing out museums' decaying artefacts receives widespread media coverage

23 July 2018

UCL ISH researcher Dr Katherine Curran has recently received significant media exposure for her research on classifying degraded modern polymeric museum artefacts by their smell.

Analysing VOCs

Katherine’s research looks at the use of volatile organic compound (VOC) analysis to diagnose degradation in modern polymeric museum artefacts. Volatile organic compound (VOC) analysis is a successful method for diagnosing medical conditions but to date has found little application in museums. Modern polymers are increasingly found in museum collections but pose serious conservation difficulties owing to unstable and widely varying formulations.

This new innovative research investigates the emissions of VOCs from plastic-based art objects and provides a first calibration scheme for using VOC analysis to study the degradation of plastics in a museum environment.

Katherine's research has featured in:

Commenting on her research Dr Katherine Curran says:

VOC analysis is a really powerful tool for disease diagnosis – it gives lots of interesting chemical information in a non-invasive way.  This makes it really useful in a heritage context also.  Here we explore VOC analysis as a non-invasive tool to understand the chemistry of degradation in plastic museum artefacts.”
Image: “Analysing VOCs from an artwork at Tate: Naum Gabo, Model for the statue of Aphrodite in the ballet 'La Chatte' 1927 (Tate T02242). The Work of Naum Gabo © Nina & Graham Williams/Tate, London 2017”