43rd Annual Meeting – RATS Session, May 15, "Polymer Coating Removal Nanosystems for Finely Controlled Cleaning of Cultural Heritage" by Piero Baglioni

I was certainly glad that I woke up in time for the first Research & Technical Studies talk of Friday morning’s session, which was presented by keynote speaker Dr. Peiro Baglioni.  Dr. Baglioni is the Chair of Physical Chemistry at the University of Florence and CSGI (Consorzio Interuniversitario per lo Sviluppo dei Sistemi a Grande Interfase, or in English…Center for Colloids & Surface Science).
Dr. Baglioni discussed the systems that they have developed to clean synthetic coatings as well as dirt and grime from pictorial art surfaces.  He started by discussing the Florence Flood of 1966, showing images of some of the resulting damage to cultural heritage, and explaining how new methods of conservation really developed as a result of this catastrophic event.  Dr. Baglioni explained that his work has focused on searching for new scientific methods and materials for conservation treatment.
His talk then launched into a group of newly developed cleaning methods.  This includes nanoparticles, micelles & microemulsions, and containers (gels).  These systems can be used for cleaning dirt/grime from mural paintings and wood, as well as for polymer coating removal.  Dr. Baglioni even mentioned paper deacidification applications.  Some of this information can be found on the Nano for Art site and I would urge anyone interested to check this link out.  Dr. Baglioni has also co-edited a book titled Nanoscience for the Conservation of Works of Art.
Dr. Baglioni put forth the question – why not just use solvents for cleaning?  He explained that synthetic polymers have been popular for conservators since the 1960s, but can age poorly.  He showed examples of poorly aged polymer coatings at the Mexican Mayapan site.  Using traditional solvents and swabs in coating removal can cause the solubilized polymer to inadvertently be injected into cracks within the deteriorated art surface.  Alternately, using microemulsions not only keeps the cleaning material on the art surface, but also has the added benefit of being less toxic for the conservator.
3 types of cleaning gels were discussed: 1) PVA/Borax hydroxide gels, 2) Hydrogels, and 3) Organogels.  Dr. Baglioni explained that the PVA/Borax hydroxide gels could be used as a peeling gel, i.e. can be placed on a surface and then peeled off later.  The hydrogels could be a carrying system for various solvents and solutions.  They can also be cut into gel squares and even re-used.  Impressive visible light, UV light, and SEM photos of surfaces at various stages of cleaning showed how effective yet safe these cleaning gels can be.
Personally, I would love to try out some of Dr. Baglioni’s cleaning materials!  There are definitely applications for a wide range of art surfaces.  The cleaning materials are trademarked, but I believe they are available commercially (does anyone know where to purchase them?).  Dr. Baglioni has so much valuable information to share with the American conservation community.  I’m sure I’m not the only one that wished that his talk could have gone on a bit longer so that he could go into more detail.  It seems like this talk only covered the tip of the iceberg in regards to his research.  Excellent way to start out the RATS session!