ASPECTS OF CHEMICAL RESEARCH IN CONSERVATION: THE DETERIORATION PROCESS
ROBERT L. FELLER
Many research contributions are not intended for immediate application by the practicing conservator. Before sound practices of prevention and treatment can be developed, extensive background information needs to be acquired regarding the way that materials and systems of materials can be characterized and how and why specific materials behave as they do. Only then can research be directed effectively toward the development of practical techniques and procedures.
Deficiencies remain in our understanding of the task of retarding deterioration, and they are the concern of all entrusted with the care of collections. One particular aspect concerns the pattern of degradation that specific classes of materials undergo. One might call this an understanding of the “pathogenesis” of degradation, or as Williams (1993, 140) calls it, “the degradation profile,” as illustrated in figure 2. Increasingly, conservation scientists are beginning to consider deterioration processes from this point of view. Thus, in spite of the long time scale over which the deterioration of museum artifacts usually takes place, the fact that certain specific materials degrade autocatalytically is now well recognized. Moreover, in situations in which an induction period seems to be part of the picture, techniques are being developed to monitor the chemical changes that occur during this deceptively quiescent period.