39th Annual Meeting – Research and Technical Studies Morning Session, June 2, “Listening to Art: An Exploration of the Use of Photoacoustic Infrared Spectroscopy in the Forensic Analysis of Artists’ Pigments” by Ian Butler

Dr. Butler described in this talk the potential use of Fourier transform photoacoustic infrared spectroscopy (FTIR-PAS) to identify organic and inorganic pigments. In their commercially available device, the sample is placed in a gas filled cavity and exposed to periodic flashes of infrared light. The sample absorbs the radiation and heats up, causing the surrounding gas to expand. The expansions can be detected as sound waves by a microphone at the end of the cavity.

The technique has been used to obtain reproducible IR spectra of pure pigments in the range of 400 to 4000 cm-1 with a resolution of 8 cm-1. Samples from lab-prepared frescoes have also been analyzed. In some cases the background noise from the plaster overwhelmed the pigment spectra, but in others the spectra could be used for pigment identification. Dr. Butler mentioned the possibility for depth-profiling, which may allow for more complex samples to be analyzed. Such work has not yet been carried out.

This method can also add some useful peaks to a regular FTIR spectrum, making it another useful option in conservation science’s identification tool-kit. Only small samples are needed and minimal preparation is required, an advantage over the commonly used ATR (Attenuated Total Reflectance) technique that may call for the sample to be crushed.