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Anikó Bezur, Lynn Lee, Maggi Loubser, and Karen Trentelman, 2020

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In this workbook, conservators and conservation scientists will learn the fundamentals of X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectroscopy and the application of handheld XRF through hands-on, practical exercises. The workbook is designed to be a training tool for those new to the technique and a refresher for more experienced users. To gain the most benefit, readers are encouraged to be actively engaged with this workbook, using it initially as a tool for self-guided learning, and subsequently as an ongoing reference source.

XRF, a noninvasive in situ technique, which provides information on the elemental composition of an object, is frequently used as one of the first analytical tools, if not the only one, applied in the study of the materials comprising works of art.

Beginning with X-ray radiation safety, the book teaches readers how to use the handheld XRF instrument in a safe working environment and in compliance with local regulations. The second chapter delves into the fundamentals of XRF and the instrument parameters that users can control to selectively optimize the detection of elements of interest. The basics of spectral interpretation and how to recognize spurious contributions to the spectra, such as contributions from the instrument itself, are also discussed in this chapter.

Chapter three, the bulk of the book, contains practical exercises on mock-ups to provide readers with more in-depth practice in spectral interpretation and familiarize them with the challenges commonly encountered in the study of cultural heritage materials, including painted surfaces, thin film materials, metals, vitreous materials, and archaeological and ethnographic materials.

The fourth chapter gives practical tips for the application of XRF to cultural heritage materials, beginning with the scientific method, how to plan an experiment, position the instrument, interpret data, and report results. A section on complementary techniques discusses the strengths —and limitations —of XRF, and how it is best used as part of a larger visual and imaging analysis plan.

Appendices include useful reference materials, such as the acquisition parameters for the four most common handheld XRF spectrometers, instructions for creating the mock-ups used in the practical exercises, a materials and suppliers list, and selected spectral overlaps.