Faculty of Science researcher will investigate conditions for preserving artworks in Europe

Photo: Ota Blahoušek
Tuesday 28 February 2023, 11:00 – Text: Šárka Chovancová

The results of a scientific research project by Paola Lucero-Gomez, from the Department of Analytical Chemistry at the UP Faculty of Science, taking into account the impact of climate change, should help museums and galleries in the future to reduce their energy consumption while maintaining optimal temperature and humidity in rooms with artworks. With support from Horizon Europe, the researcher will monitor the indoor environment in four museum buildings in Norway, Italy and the Czech Republic, and evaluate the impact of temperature and relative humidity variations on the degradation of artworks’ materials. She will then determine the acceptable range of fluctuations in these parameters for the artworks’ safe preservation.

During her work in Venice between 2018 and 2021, Dr Lucero compared the indoor environment of two famous museums. “The museums differed significantly in terms of energy consumption. One was not equipped with indoor environmental control systems and the paintings were in good condition. The other museum, on the other hand, had high bills for electricity needed to run such systems, and the artworks were also in good condition. So I asked myself, which conditions allow a museum with low energy costs to protect its collections so well,” said Dr Lucero.

Within the SMARTMUS-E project, the researcher decided to use monitoring and assessment of changes in the indoor environment of four museums at different latitudes to determine the optimal range of humidity and temperature ensuring the necessary protection for the artworks to effectively manage energy consumption. “I will try to find out how the museums differ from each other in terms of indoor temperature and humidity and which molecular markers are related to the level of protection of their art collections,” said Lucero.

The research will take place in the Norwegian Viking Ship Museum in Oslo and the Historical Museum of Oslo, in the Italian Galleria dell'Accademia di Venezia in Venice, and in Český Krumlov Castle. There, the young scientist will deploy mock-up samples that will age naturally in the monitored environment.

“In this way, I want to find out under what conditions cultural heritage objects can best be preserved. Together with the conservators, we will determine the degree of damage to the mock-up samples and establish the values of permissible fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity. Then, based on the knowledge gained, it will be possible to adjust the climatic conditions in museums to reduce energy consumption and at the same time protect the artworks from damage,” she added.

This will not be an easy task, as the climate inside the museum buildings needs to be precisely balanced according to the collection. “Temperature accelerates the ageing of materials and significantly affects relative humidity, which can also harm art objects. Therefore, it is essential to carefully monitor the temperature of the interiors and adjust when necessary,” Lucero pointed out. In addition, optimal relative humidity varies for different materials. Organic materials such as wood, textiles, and ivory are affected by both extremely low and high relative humidity. For metal objects, the lowest possible humidity is suitable. “In museum displays, therefore, it is always necessary to choose a compromise that is derived from the most sensitive materials,” said the chemist.

An important part of the research will be laboratory analyses of materials that are part of historical artworks. Instrumental methods of analytical chemistry will be used, including ion mobility, chromatographic methods, mass and infrared spectrometry. Artificial (accelerated) ageing of model samples will be an integral part of the experiments to assess longer-term changes caused by temperature and humidity fluctuations.

The research project “Smart management of energy and costs in museums. A chemical background for a control methodology for Temperature and Relative Humidity fluctuations” (SMARTMUS-E) is funded by the European programme ERA Talents Postdoctoral Fellowships, Horizon Europe, within the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions programme, and will be developed in cooperation with the National Heritage Institute (Czech Republic) and the aforementioned foreign partners in Norway and Italy. Dr Paola Lucero-Gomez will carry out the project using the state-of-the-art laboratory facilities of the Department of Analytical Chemistry at the Faculty of Science, Palacký University Olomouc, under the supervision of Prof Karel Lemr.


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