Pollutants in museums

Research focus

The history and identity of mankind is reflected in the enormous variety of our cultural heritage. Gaining access to these monuments by means of research and preserving them for future generations is an interdisciplinary challenge for society as a whole.

At the Fraunhofer WKI, well-established scientific analytical methods are modified to allow them to be used on cultural assets. New solution approaches and assessment strategies for the preservation of our cultural heritage are being developed. This applies in particular to the subject areas of indoor hygiene, non-destructive testing and building physics.

© Fraunhofer WKI | Manuela Lingnau
Figure of Philippos Arrhidaios, around 320 BC. Courtesy of the Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum, Braunschweig

Both architecutral monuments and mobile cultural assets are equally at risk due to climate changes and the influence of airborne pollutants. The department Material Analysis and Indoor Chemistry

  • performs analyses of volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds, organic acids and formaldehyde in indoor air in exhibition and storage rooms as well as museum showcases
  • carries out measurements of house dust and particles as well as investigations into the indoor climate
  • evaluates indoor air quality by means of available target and reference values as well as the current state of knowledge regarding damage mechanisms

Knowledge concerning the emission potential of materials which are used in the immediate environment of cultural assets enables the targeted manipulation of room climates and microclimates. Available for this purpose are

  • emission test chambers and cells
  • standardized analytical methods and sampling techniques
© Fraunhofer WKI
Detection of airborne compounds and particles in the cathedral treasury in Minden, Germany.

Special focuses of research include:

  • Examination of air in rooms and museum showcases
  • Biocide contamination of museum rooms and exhibits
  • Room climates and microclimates
  • Emission-testing of building products and decoration materials
  • Emission measurements on showcases and showcase component materials
  • Emission test chambers and cells
  • Analysis of pollutants
  • Investigation of biocidal active substances
  • Heavy metal analytics
  • Dust and particles in indoor areas
  • The use of sorbents for the reduction of air pollutants
  • Absorber materials for the reduction of harmful gases
  • Active and passive heat-flow thermography
  • Spatially-resolved VIS and NIR spectroscopy
  • Numerical simulation of climatic processes

Non-destructive testing of cultural assets

Non-destructive methods of analysis are often required in the investigation and research of historical monuments and museum objects as well as in the documentation of restoration work. Active infrared thermography provides an innovative solution here. In contrast to other physical methods, it visualizes differences in heat capacity and conductivity and creates no safety problems.
This non-destructive testing technique was developed at the Fraunhofer WKI and is employed in the examination of icons, terracotta figures and historic furniture. In particular, watermarks can be better displayed, as the density variations in the paper can be examined with the help of thermographic transmission.

Coupled transport of heat and moisture

A central question in building physics is the thermohygric behavior of materials. This applies particularly strongly for historic buildings. For these buildings and wooden cultural assets, the reaction to changing environmental conditions - as regards temperature and air humidity - is of great practical importance. At the Fraunhofer WKI, the coupled transportation of heat and humidity is investigated with the aid of numerical simulation. Measuring technology for the verification of the simulations as well as for the examination of full-sized building sections in double climatic chambers is also available.