Analyses of the variety of materials constituting our cultural heritage require the expertise of many different scientific disciples such as organic and inorganic chemistry, geology and geochemistry, mineralogy, nuclear chemistry and physics, botany, microbiology, entomology physics and engineering. However, professionals in other scientific disciplines may not have the necessary understanding and expertise required for meaningful analytical work in historic preservation.
There are only a handful of laboratories specialized in, and dedicated to, the study and analysis of cultural property. Scientist with such expertise often work at museums and other cultural institutions that have a specific mandate to concentrate primarily on their own collections or historic properties in their care.
Students and researchers at universities, colleges and research organizations, are occupied with their research and support for their parent organization, and find it difficult to undertake outside analytical work unless it is consistent with their ongoing research or leads to publication.
Government laboratories are mandated to actively pursue technology transfer, and unfortunately, routine analytical work does not fall in that category. Also, frequently their support is only available to other government organizations.
Several of the commercial service providers undertake materials testing, but they may not have adequate experience in performing analytical services that cater to the needs of the conservation professionals. These commercial laboratories are mainly used by conservation professionals who have enough scientific knowledge to be able to do their own data interpretation. There are, however, a few exceptions where laboratories have developed specific expertise in the study of historic materials and are able to provide data interpretation.
In order to assess the need for analytical and materials testing services for historic preservation, the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training initiated the task of compiling a directory of laboratories in the United States that are willing to provide analytical services in the field of cultural heritage preservation. The directory was prepared from the responses to letters sent to laboratories and individuals, and inquiries posted on several discussion lists on the internet, by Frank Preusser and Associates, Inc. While originally not intended to be a part of the directory, some dating laboratories and laboratories abroad have also been included. The listings is by no means exhaustive and will need to be regularly updated.