This innovative project (2010-2013) will look at the diagnostic
value of the smell of heritage objects. We are all familiar with the
smell of old books, but it has only recently been shown that the
compounds emitted by paper provide clues about its composition and
condition. Using appropriate portable tools, which have recently become
available, it should in principle be possible to "sniff" objects in
non-laboratory conditions and thus provide valuable information to the
More about old book smell can be found here.
The increased interest in volatiles emitted by heritage objects
(i.e. their smell) also comes from the fact that they constitute
indoor-generated pollution. This is known to affect materials and
objects in close (or not so close) contact but needs to be understood
better. Also, some objects, particularly ethnographic objects, may have
been treated with pesticides and their safest identification could be
by instrumental sniffing. There are a number of applications for this
approach and the Heritage Smells! project will lead the way towards
introduction of small portable sniffing devices into conservation and
UCL Centre for Sustainable Heritage will be particularly involved in research on book and plastic material identification and condition assessment based on non-destructive determination of volatiles emitted by the objects. To do this, we will use gas chromatography and mass spectrometry in the laboratory, and a portable mass spectrometric tool to be used in situ, in libraries, museums, archives and galleries. The data will need to be instantly available, and development of appropriate data processing tools will also be part of our task.
Main image: Emissions from heritage objects are of high interest due to their potential diagnostic value - they could reveal the identity but also the state of degradation of heritage objects. For their analysis, gas chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry is a key tool (the photo is symbolic).
The large collaborative project is funded by the UK AHRC/EPSRC Science & Heritage Programme.
We are looking forward to collaborating with distinguished partners on this exciting and interdisciplinary project. Involved in the project are:
University of Strathclyde
Send Lorraine an email
University College London
Send Barry an email
Send Catherine an email
National Museum of Scotland
Send Jim an email
National Archives of Scotland
Send Linda an email
Send Chris an email
Send David an email