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Accelerator-based techniques are powerful tools to gain better insight into heritage materials and objects to improve their conservation and restoration. It is possible to determine elemental and chemical composition with high sensitivity and accuracy by applying ion beams and X-rays produced by accelerators. Additional valuable features of these techniques are quantitative chemical imaging and dating to determine the age of the artefact.

The aforementioned investigations contribute to more comprehensive research work in art history, archaeology and conservation science. The analytical information allows for the identification of cultural heritage materials and objects, exploring the manufacturing technology and techniques applied, as well as the source of materials used and, understanding their alteration and possible earlier conservation treatment. It is also possible to determine whether an artefact is original or fake by applying these techniques.

Safe Analysis of Heritage Objects and Materials


Novel generation synchrotron and ion beam techniques are powerful tools for the analysis of heritage objects and materials. Recent technological developments at synchrotron facilities have made full scanning of entire paintings and paleontological fossils available as well as investigating unique micro-samples of the highest historical values. At ion beam facilities, the in-situ study of objects using external nuclear microprobes has been a major breakthrough that can be coupled to advanced high-resolution measurements on samples in a vacuum environment. With the development of these and complementary techniques (laser-based techniques, mass spectrometric methods, thermoluminescence), heritage materials and objects are increasingly subject to subsequent analysis, i.e. irradiation.

When dealing with cultural heritage artefacts, material modification can occur due to the applied radiation. This is an essential consideration and a major concern of heritage end-users i.e. curators, conservators, and archaeologists.

Usually, analysts focus on getting as much analytical information as possible. Due to the large amount of energy deposited when performing these measurements, there is a risk of degradation of the materials under study. The application of high doses is regularly applied to compensate for the limited sensitivity of currently available detectors. Material damage can sometimes be visible to the human eye: formation of colour centres in glass, browning of organic compounds, etc. The potential loss of information or worse, the retrieval of misleading or biased information from an area damaged by radiation, even without direct visual consequences to the sample or object, poses a major analytical risk. Although a range of precautions is usually taken to minimize risk, these measures remain mostly at the stage of local 'recipes' that are not discussed jointly nor shared.

The fundamentals of radiation effects on complex material systems like heritage materials, the short and long-term impact on material modification by advanced ion and photon-based characterisation methods, all remain largely open. We are dedicated to pursuing safe analysis of heritage objects and materials and, are working to achieve this goal. Below, is our recent brochure intended to assist analysts and curators in discussions of the various aspects that minimize material modification before/during/after the analysis.

Useful to read for fundamentals of radiation effects on heritage objects and materials with extensive references our paper: L. Bertrand, S. Schoder, A. Demetrios, M.B.H. Breese, K. Janssens, M. Moini, A. Simon: Mitigation strategies for radiation damage in the analysis of ancient materials, Trends in Analytical Chemistry, 66 (2015) 128-145.

Nuclear Science for Art: Workshop Focuses on Safe Practices, Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE) and Rijks Museum together with the IAEA, 2017

Aliz SIMON, IAEA, Physics Section, Vienna, Austria

Loïc BERTRAND, IPANEMA CNRS Culture UVSQ, Univ. Paris-Saclay; Synchrotron SOLEIL, Saint-Aubin, France

Thomas CALLIGARO, Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France (C2RMF), Paris, France

Flyura DJURABEKOVA, Department of Physics, University of Helsinki, Finland

Ineke JOOSTEN, Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, Amersfoort/Amsterdam, Netherlands

Samuel WEBB, Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL), SLAC National Laboratory, USA

Maartje STOLS-WITLOX, University of Amsterdam, Programme Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage, Amsterdam, Netherlands


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You can download the pamphlet here.

Design of the interactive PDF and the pamphlet by Anja Wartig Pessoa Barradas.