Works of art and tangible cultural heritage assests constitute an invaluable and irreplaceable resource of humanity, which is increasingly threatened by contaminants from pollution, vandalism, smoke, fire, and many other factors. Currently available cleaning methods require contact with the surface, mechanical action, liquids, countless chemicals, and auxiliary means, which increase the carbon footprint of treatments. Their efficiency can be limited, and they can be detrimental to art materials, as well as harmful to health and the environment, and unsustainable in the long term. The urgent need for sustainable green approaches has been emphasized for over a decade, summarized in ICOM-CC's Melbourne 2014 declaration, but the actual progress in creating green solutions has been very slow.
To kick-start a breakthrough, the European Commission has funded Green Atmospheric Plasma Generated Monoatomic OXYgen Technology for Restauration of the Works of Arts - MOXY project 2022-2026, coordinated by Ghent University with a Horizon Europe grant in the call Green Technologies and Materials for Cultural Heritage : HORIZON-CL2-HERITAGE-01-01 (grant agreement ID: 101061336) to bring to fruition a radically new approach to the cleaning of tangible cultural heritage assets, based on atomic oxygen, which will empower practitioners in diverse areas of conservation to safely remove highly problematic contaminants in a contact-free, non-mechanical, solvent-free and liquid-free action, without helath or environmental concerns, or waste.
Impacts & Results
A green band of oxygen glow is visible over Earth's curve. In natural conditions, atomic oxygen extends from about 80 km to above 300 km, with over 90% concentraded between 85-125 km. MOXY aims to bring this space environment material for green transformation to cultural heritage conservation. At the European Space Agency MOXY researchers experimented with a space environment simulator to remove soot form unprimed cotton canvas and other typical art materials in a non-contact way using oxygen atoms.
MOXY aims to lead the green transformation in cultural heritage conservation by developing a clean technology, which uses nothing but oxygen atoms to remove diverse carbon-based contaminants from sensitive cultural heritage materials in a non-contact way. The project is ambitous, as it literally aims to upper layers of Earth's atmosphere, where powerful solar ultraviolet radiation splits O2 molecules into atoms. The monatomic O does not recombine easily in space intro the diatomic form O2 or ozone, beacuse the oxygen density is much lower and therefore has fewer interactions.
The conditions are vey different on the ground, where oxygen atoms nearly instantly recombine to O2, ozone or quickly react with other unattached or weakly bonded atoms. The MOXY concept aims to couple the extremely short lifetime of oxygen atoms on the ground, with its high chemical reactivity, as a basis for contactless atomic-scale removal of carbon-based contaminants that deteriorate cultural heritage assets - soot, combustion products, hydrocarbons, and organic compounds that ablate literally into "thin air", producing only small amounts of volatile and benign environmental by products, such as CO, CO2 or H2O vapor.
The basis of the innovative MOXY concept stems from the work of two NASA scientists - Sahron Ruledge Miller and Bruce Banks, who first applied atomic oxygen in the 1990s to clean cultural heritage materials and successfully used oxygen atoms to remove lipstick vendalism from a porous white acrylic paint on Andy Warhol painting, "Bathtub" (1961), at the Andy Wharol Museum in Pittsburg, PA, the United States.
Since then, atomic oxygen has remained unavailable to cultural heritage scientists or conservators. The MOXY team aims to bridge this knowledge gap and bring the material from the space environment to the cultural heritage conservation field. To enable a breakthrough, experts from plasma physics, green chemistry, heritage science, and conservation from 10 European research organizations, museums, SMEs, and NGOs from 6 European Member states have joined forces in the MOXY project.
"Observing #Earth - ISS Expedition 38" by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.