Science at home: Come sniff the Archives

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

Image from Wired.com

I like the smell of old books. Growing up in a house that was mainly a library with bedrooms, it’s a smell I’d recognize anywhere. Turns out, not only is the smell recognizable, it’s also measureable. Matija Strlic at University College London has published research in the journal Analytic Chemistry that shows that it’s possible to identify and asses the make-up and condition of old paper by analyzing the volatile organic compounds they release. Strlic imagines a future where electronic “noses” can be used in libraries, museums, archives, etc. to “smell” the air around old papers to help determine appropriate conservation steps.

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