The Museum Conservation Institute is the center for specialized technical collection research and conservation for all Smithsonian museums and collections. Staff members combine their knowledge of materials and the history of technology with state-of-the-art instrumentation and scientific techniques to provide technical research studies and interpretation of art, as well as anthropological and historical objects. The Institute conducts studies of objects using analytical techniques to elucidate their provenance, composition, and cultural context and improve the Smithsonian’s conservation and collections storage capabilities.
MCI strives to enlarge understanding of how materials and composite objects deteriorate. This research generates both data and models used to formulate conditions for storage, display, and other uses that will minimize deterioration. MCI projects also develop and test treatment technologies for stabilizing deteriorating collection materials. All these studies require analyses and characterizations of object materials and deterioration products and examination of the way external and internal factors, such as environmental conditions or chemical composition and physical structure, affect the nature and rate of these alteration mechanisms.
The Museum Conservation Institute (MCI), since its founding in 1963, is a unique and specialized center in the museum conservation and heritage science field for the development of new and better methods of collection care and understanding composition and degradation of collection objects. MCI has introduced many new techniques into the heritage science field, the most recent being the application of proteomics mass spectrometry to elucidate new information on the identification and degradation of museum objects. MCI, through its internship and fellowship programs, has trained a significant number of conservators and scientists in our field. Its training programs disseminate knowledge not just to SI and U.S. museums but throughout the world. Since 1963, MCI has produce more than 1800 publications in the conservation and science literature; building a long legacy of contributions to heritage preservation.