Nanomaterials for conservation

Salvaged in 1982, the Mary Rose provides an unprecedented insight into Tudor society and technology. Although the low oxygen environment underwater helped to preserve the wood, interactions with bacteria, sea-water salts and sulfur compounds have and can continue to damage and degrade the wood structure. Whilst buried under the seabed, hydrogen sulfide formed by sulfur reducing bacteria migrated into the wood. This reacted with iron ions, from corroded fixtures, to form iron sulfides. Stable in low-oxygen environments, sulfur rapidly oxidises in the presence of iron under atmospheric conditions to form destructive acid.

Working with collaborators, Dr Eleanor Schofield at the Mary Rose trust and Prof Rachel O’Reilly at the University of Warwick, we are designing a new approach to the conservation of waterlogged wooden artefacts, going beyond current methods where potential acid sources remain in the wood, through the use of smart multifunctional magnetic nanocomposites capable of treating the Mary Rose hull and her ~19000 artefacts. We aim to target and remove harmful entities lodged inside wooden structures, compared to current strategies whereby harmful chemicals remain in the wood. By using magnetic nanoparticles, we should be able to direct the particles to desired areas inside the wood, thereby optimising the removal of harmful species. Also at the heart of our design is the importance of a safe and non-destructive administration procedure. For this reason, we are employing tuneable, controllable thermoresponsive polymers to easily apply and remove our magnetic vehicles.

Funding for this project comes from the Leverhulme trust (grant number RPG-2015-134).

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