UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage


POPART: Preservation of Plastic Artefacts in Museums

The EU 7th Framework project 'Preservation of Plastic Artefacts in museum collections' with the acronym 'POPART' addresses the issues with a large and interesting group of synthetic materials in collections of 'modern' objects from the nineteenth and twentieth century. It tackles the identification, characterisation, deterioration and stabilisation of plastics that are less stable than was once believed.

Characterisation of plastic artefacts is a complex analytical problem and represents a challenging area of research as most materials are extremely inhomogeneous either due to the production process or due to degradation processes. The collaborative project is intended to develop a pan-European strategy that targets better conservation and maintenance of plastics in museum collections.

At the Centre for Sustainable Heritage, we are particularly interested in analytical techniques in combination with chemometrics, as this offers the possibility of development of rapid identification and quantification techniques.

Our task is to develop statistical tools to analyse spectral data from a portable near infrared (NIR) spectroscopic tool. Near infrared spectroscopy is used in diffuse reflectance mode allowing non-invasive analysis and non-contact characterisation of 3D objects if coupled to a fibre optic probe

Project partners:


Dr Matija Strlic
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Dr Gianluca Pastorelli 


The Centre's researcher on the project, Gianluca Pastorelli, developed a proof-of-concept identification application for a handheld NIR spectrometer, which could be developed into a handy tool for use in non-laboratory conditions.

We are leading in quantitative NIR chemical imaging, and have developed the first quantitative 2D NIR maps of plastic heritage objects for identification and mapping of plasticiser distribution. This research has been done in collaboration with the company Specim Imaging Ltd.

Another innovative part of our research in this project is the environmental project, where we have exposed 25 samples of historic plastics in 11 different environments across Europe and Egypt, to study the behaviour of plastic materials in environments with different climates and levels of pollution. This study will lead to development of realistic damage functions.

The outcome of the research will have important implications for the management and conservation of plastic artefacts, and will be extremely useful in order to prescribe their care, storage or exhibition. 


The POPART project is addressing very important issues on the preservation of plastics that will be shared by many museums, conservation laboratories, conservation science institutes, training programmes and companies. The Centre's research will contribute to develop a European wide accepted strategy to improve conservation and maintenance of plastic artefacts in museum collections.

The impact of this research can be assessed considering the book which will be published as output of the project. Based on scientific studies and experiences gathered from partners, the POPART book is proposed to help evaluating and establishing recommended practices and risks associated for exhibiting, conserving and restoring art museum collections created with synthetic polymers.

An international conference is being planned for March 2012 and has already attracted interest from practitioners and academics working in this area of research.