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Paper That Destroys Microbes
March 27, 2013   
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Fungi and bacteria target not only living organisms, but also paper and fabrics. They can destroy old manuscripts, prints, books or paintings. Researchers at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow have developed a special kind of antiseptic wrapping paper that prevents this from happening.

Paintings, prints and manuscripts are extremely delicate and demanding objects. Sudden changes in temperature and humidity are particularly harmful to them. They can also be affected by chemicals in the air and by sunlight.

The researchers at the Jagiellonian University’s Paper Degradation and Stability Laboratory have developed a special kind of paper for packaging and safe storage of works of art. This paper can be used for the production of envelopes, folders, archive boxes and mats used in archives, museums and libraries.

The paper is designed to absorb all harmful substances emitted by works of art in the process of natural aging, according to one of the inventors, Roman Goł±b from the Jagiellonian University, one of eight scientists working in a team led by Joanna Łojewska, Ph.D. In addition, the paper will absorb acidic compounds, such as nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide, and pollutants in the air caused by the burning of fuels. It will also have antibacterial and antifungal properties, because fungi and bacteria can virtually eat a painting or an old document, Goł±b says.

The researchers have added a porous substance called zeolite to the paper to absorb harmful chemicals. In addition, they have added silver nanoparticles with antiseptic properties.

At present, various kinds of special packaging are used for packing valuable works of art, but none is capable of protecting valuable documents in such a comprehensive way, according to Goł±b. In the United States, boxes that absorb nitrogen oxides are used, but they do not have antiseptic properties and are expensive, he says.

In addition to his work on antiseptic paper, Goł±b is also working on upgrading a device called a microfadometer. This device is used for measuring the resistance of paintings or materials to light—lightfastness testing. With this device, it will be possible to predict how a work of art will look in a few decades if it is displayed or stored in specific conditions, says Goł±b.

For now, the device’s design is quite complicated. It consists of several components: a light source (xenon lamp), an optical system that exposes a sample to light and another optical system that makes it possible to collect reflected light carrying information about color changes.

The Cracow researchers want the device to be easy to use so that not only chemistry experts but also conservators and museum staff as well as art collectors can use it.

The device developed by the Cracow researchers makes it possible to test the material’s response to light by measuring its lightfastness on an area only a quarter of a millimeter in diameter. Such a test can be regarded as completely non-destructive and used for the analysis of precious works of art. The device has already been used to examine some manuscripts, including those of composer Frederic Chopin stored at the Jagiellonian University Library.

Teresa Bętkowska
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