The Smithsonian and the SOLEIL Synchrotron Partner to Analyze Antiquities, Cultural Heritage and Palaeontological Materials

The Smithsonian Institution and the Synchrotron SOLEIL of France announced today a new partnership between the organizations to use the power of the third generation synchrotron to study and preserve priceless collections in the world’s largest museum. This is the first partnership between the Institut photonique d’analyse non-destructive européen des matériaux anciens (‘IPANEMA’) platform at SOLEIL and the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute. IPANEMA is a unique research platform designed to facilitate access to synchrotron techniques for scientific communities working with “historical and ancient materials”. The Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute is a scientific research unit of the Smithsonian that conducts research on collections and their preservation.  The announcement was made during the signing of a memorandum of understanding on June 10 by the French Minister for Higher Education and Research Valérie Pécresse and the Smithsonian’s Under Secretary for Science Eva Pell. The signing took place at the Ministry of Higher Education and Research in Paris. The goal of the MOU is to strengthen the cooperation between these institutions and the scientific and cultural cooperation between the United States and France, especially in using advanced synchrotron analysis to study ancient materials that are of historical and cultural significance.

The joint programs will include exchange of staff and fellows, collaborative research using the synchrotron platforms, development of advanced methods, and joint seminars, workshops and meetings. The first project, with research scheduled to begin in June 2010, will examine the fading of Prussian blue, the first modern pigment accidentally discovered at the beginning of the eighteenth century. A favorite of nineteenth century painters, artisans and manufacturers because it was both stable and cheap, the dye was ubiquitous in the period’s wallpapers, textiles, stamps, cosmetics and early photographs. It is the blue in architectural blueprints. However, the pigment is subject to fading under special condition because of its unique electronic and magnetic properties. Study at the synchrotron will examine the fading of Prussian blue at the nano scale. “We are delighted to join forces with the SOLEIL to develop new tools that will enhance our understanding and preservation of sensitive collections,” said Eva J. Pell, the Smithsonian’s Under Secretary for Science.

“We welcome SOLEIL into this great partnership, and we look forward to working with their highly qualified staff as we intensively study the material characteristics of cultural heritage,” said Robert J. Koestler, Director of the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute whose staff will be conducting experiments at SOLEIL this summer.

“The convergence of disciplines is a key challenge and this common action of a large scale facility and a most prominent cultural and research institution is a concrete and very positive outcome” said Michel van der Rest, CEO of Synchrotron SOLEIL.

The SOLEIL synchrotron opened to users in 2008 and located on the Saclay Plateau, 20-km South-West of Paris, SOLEIL is the third-generation French synchrotron (CNRS, CEA). The SOLEIL source accelerates bunches of electrons until they radiate extremely bright light covering a very wide range of wavelengths from far infrared to X-rays. The characteristics of this light (intensity, focus, stability, etc.) allow scientists to observe matter down to the atomic level and perform experiments that would previously not have been possible, in the interests of fundamental, applied, and industrial research. SOLEIL serves each year thousands of scientists from biology, chemistry, materials science, the environment, physics, Earth sciences, and ancient materials. SOLEIL’s specifications (operating energy, number of undulators, brightness, continuous injection for beam stability to within a micron, etc.) make it competitive at the top level on the international scene. The IPANEMA platform is devoted to archaeology, artworks conservation, paleontology and past environments. IPANEMA is developed by SOLEIL, CNRS, National Museum of Natural History, and the Ministry of Culture and Communication. It is funded by the Ministry of Higher Education and Research and the Région Île-de-France.

The Smithsonian Institution is the world’s largest museum and research complex, consisting of 19 museums and nine research centers, with 30 million visitors annually. The total number of objects, works of art and specimens at the Smithsonian is estimated at more than 136 million. The Smithsonian was founded in 1846 by James Smithson (1765-1829), a British scientist, who bequeathed the whole of his estate to the United States to found “at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.”

L'Institution Smithsonian, le Synchrotron Soleil et le C.N.R.S. signent un accord de coopération : Synchrotron Soliel et CNRS signent un accord de coopération - on Dailymotion