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NCPTT’s Materials Conservation Program is opening up the world of preservation to new technologies for conservation and preservation of historic cultural materials. In 2010, researchers at the National Center focused on exploring new materials and methods to solve a today’s most pressing cultural heritage problems.

Responding to Disaster

NCPTT materials conservator Jason Church tests a solvent based cleaner on an oil laden brick wall

NCPTT is turning disaster into opportunities for discovery through technical assistance to the Gulf Coast in the wake of the Deep Water Horizon oil spill. NCPTT staff members dedicated more than 1,000 hours to oil spill response. They are involved in a multiagency task force and technical working groups to develop baseline and injury assessment tools. They are visiting sites impacted by oil and their work is influencing the way information is being collected and how it will be used in the future. Moreover, NCPTT researchers are evaluating products to remove crude oil from masonry structures and archeological materials. Beginning in the early days of the disaster, NCPTT developed recommendations and best practice guidance for protection of historic structures along the affected area. The document offered suggestions and general information regarding ways to protect structures from possible oil contamination and included a rapid assessment form for determining the condition of historic structures before and after exposure.

At the request of the Louisiana SHPO and Louisiana Office of State Parks, NCPTT staff members visited Fort Livingston, Grand Terre Island, in Jefferson Parish, La. twice since June to assess the amount of oil contamination on the fort and to test cleaning methods on small portions of the structure. As a result, NCPTT has partnered with the University of Texas, Austin, to study the problem. Payal Vora, a graduate student in UT Austin’s historic preservation program, is evaluating the effectiveness and adverse effects of select cleaners on oiled brick.

Erin White, a Master of Arts in Heritage Resources student at Northwestern State University, has also joined NCPTT’s research team. Her work is evaluating effective methods of cleaning crude oil from archeological artifacts made of bone and shell. White will determine the procedure which provides the greatest level cleaning with the least amount of damage to the object. The types of treatments she develops will likely take place in the laboratory if and when objects are removed from sites.

Delivering Preservation Technologies

In response to growing public interest in preserving historic cemeteries, NCPTT convened the first Nationwide Cemetery Preservation Summit in Nashville Tennessee on Oct. 19-21, 2009. The summit brought together leading cemetery preservation experts who addressed aspects of cemetery preservation including planning, landscapes, archaeology, documentation, and materials conservation. The summit brought together more than 100 participants from across the nation to share ideas. Among the participants at NCPTT’s Nationwide Cemetery Preservation Summit were representatives from 10 National Park Service-managed national cemeteries, who met face-to-face for the first time in a special session. Several outcomes resulted from NCPTT’s special session on National Cemetery care. Most importantly, from this group, a task force emerged to develop new and improved NPS cemetery management policy. In July 2010, NPS Director Jon Jarvis released Director’s Order 61: National Cemetery Operations as guidance for managing 14 national cemeteries that are under NPS stewardship. The Order was the culmination of nearly a year’s work by the NPS Cemetery Task Force. NCPTT continues to contribute to the task force as it develops the accompanying reference manual to the Order. The National Park Service turned to NCPTT as the national experts on cemetery maintenance. NCPTT provided training to the NPS Cemetery Task Force on a wide variety of cemetery maintenance issues, from managing landscapes to cleaning government issued headstones.

NCPTT intern, Anna Muto, applies a rust conversion treatment to corroded iron lab samples.

NCPTT’s expertise extends to other federal agencies. In 2010, NCPTT staff members continued to serve as technical advisers to the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and Arlington National Cemetery on conservation of the Tomb of the Unknowns. Treatments to the Tomb were completed in June. Also, NCPTT was instrumental in the development of novel treatments for use on marble monuments in Historic Congressional Cemetery for the Department of Veterans Affairs. NCPTT and its partners were honored with a District of Columbia Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation for the Congressional Cemetery Historic Monuments Restoration Project.

NCPTT’s research isn’t just about preservation technologies for historic cemeteries. NCPTT researchers designed a new eddy current analyzer that uses the way electrons flow through a metal to find information not readily visible to the eye. For example, the name and company of a civil war union soldier was identified from a worn inscription inside a silver ring using NCPTT’s system. Other uses of the eddy current analyzer include determining the thickness of a coating on a metal surface and identifying different types of metals found in cultural heritage.

Also, NCPTT initiated a research study into the effectiveness of rust converters for protection of historic ironwork. Corrosion of iron leads to damage and loss of integrity of many metal objects, from decorative ironwork to historic firearms. NCPTT is comparing commercially-available and custom formulated chemical treatments to stabilize these metal objects.

NCPTT used its creative skills to produce two new training videos in 2010. NCPTT and its partners created a training video on a traditional Louisiana construction method called Bousillage, which uses mud and Spanish moss as a construction material. They also developed a second training video on proper hoisting and lifting techniques for moving fallen or sunken monuments.

Partnering to Advance Research

Polymer chemist Bruce Fu PhD of Hybrid Plastics treats a marble headstone with a chemical consolident treatment.

NCPTT Researchers are discovering new treatments for historic stone conservation with the help of Hybrid Plastics, the University of Southern Mississippi, and a grant from the National Science Foundation. The team is developing new stone strengtheners, also called consolidants, based on latest advances in polymer science. The National Science Foundation has awarded the partnership a grant of $360,000 for the three-year project. The National Science Foundation grant brings together a unique combination of expertise and resources to address fundamental challenges in stone conservation to advance the field of conservation and heritage science. Commercially- available consolidants are on the market, but increasing restrictions on environmental regulations make it harder to use these products in an outdoor environment. Additionally, some of the products work better on materials like sandstone than on limestone or marble. Proposed new stone consolidants are based on the POSS molecule’s ability to form a cage-like structure that provides strength and stability under a variety of environmental conditions. These polymers have properties that are similar to both ceramics and plastics. Depending on modifications made to these molecules, the resulting polymers can be used as adhesives, water repellents, or consolidants.


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