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Non-invasive Analyses of Cultural Heritage Objects

Freie Universität Physicist Organizes Gordon Conference from July 29 to August 3

№ 158/2012 from Jun 12, 2012

The use of cutting-edge scientific methods in cultural heritage research will be presented and debated at a Gordon Research Conference in Vermont, USA from July 29 to August 5. The Conference, organized by physicist Prof. Dr. Heinz-Eberhard Mahnke from Freie Universität Berlin, aims to promote cooperation between researchers on complex cultural heritage issues. The Conference brings together scientists working with analytical methods and imaging techniques to investigate art works and scholars applying, for example, art historical methodologies. The Conference is co-chaired by Heinz-Eberhard Mahnke, who is also a member of Excellence Cluster Topoi and the Helmholtz Zentrum Berlin, and Marco Leona from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Applications for the Conference in West Dover, Vermont, are being accepted until July 1.

Research in this field increases our understanding of heritage, cultural technologies, and artist intent in developing works. Moreover, it not only serves to identify and explore deterioration processes and the possibilities of halting them, but also to evolve long-term preservation strategies for these valuable cultural heritage objects. The Conference participants will be focusing particularly on the investigation of materials in cultural heritage preservation. The main emphasis here is on microanalysis, including nanoscale structures, as well as imaging processes and their large-scale use. The discussions will be directed to such current and future developments as hyperspectral imaging, Terahertz spectroscopy and tomography, as well as elemental and molecular analysis using photons, neutrons, and ions.

This first Gordon Conference on cultural heritage research is a gift for a dual anniversary in Berlin. In the late 19th century, Friedrich Rathgen, born 150 years ago, founded the first chemical research laboratory, later named the Rathgen Research Laboratory, providing chemical research for the museums on Berlin’s Museum Island; fifty years ago, the chair of nuclear physics was established at Freie Universität Berlin with the appointment of Heinz Lindenberger, promoting the field within physics that has supplied the basis for many of the techniques to be discussed at the Conference.

The renowned Gordon Research Conferences were initiated in the late 1920s by the U.S. chemist Neil E. Gordon of the Johns Hopkins University. Gordon’s objective was to promote dialogue between scientists working in different disciplines and stimulate discussion on research findings and developments. To begin with, the conferences primarily focused on the fields of biology, chemistry, physics, and related technologies: later, they also included medical research. This Conference in July and August in West Dover, Vermont, now builds a bridge to disciplines in the humanities, in particular to museology, art history, the cultural sciences, and archaeology. The Conference is funded by the Gerda Henkel Foundation in Düsseldorf and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation in New York. The Conference is also supported by the Gordon Research Conferences, Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin, the French Embassy in Washington, and the Argonne National Laboratory, as well as the Bruker America and EFG Berlin companies.

Public awareness of specialist conferences and congresses involving acknowledged leading researchers and the new generation of scientists is steadily growing, evident for example in such exhibitions as “The Early Dürer,” on show until early September in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg. The exhibition not only showcases some of Albrecht Dürer’s works rarely on view to the general public, but also reveals secrets of his painting style, overpaintings, and special painting techniques. Similar research has also been carried out into works by Leonardo da Vinci and Vincent van Gogh. Following the current discussion on protecting authors and copyrights, this also raises in some instances, especially among modern cultural practitioners, the more ethical question of how justified it is to reveal or disclose an artist’s intimate thoughts and secrets, or the creative techniques characteristic of his or her work or his or her “school.”

Further Information

Heinz-Eberhard Mahnke, Freie Universität Berlin, Department of Physics, Email: hemahnke@zedat.fu-berlin.de