Laser Mass Spectroscopy for Cultural Heritage

The GCI's use of laser mass spectroscopy focuses on the development of complementary techniques that can provide minimally invasive, spatially resolved, molecularly-specific, and unambiguous identification of organic components of cultural heritage objects, particularly when those components are only available to be analyzed as part of a cross section sample. Supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation, researchers from the University of California Santa Barbara in partnership with GCI scientists are conducting fundamental research to develop a new analytical technique that will be compatible with the miniscule samples typically available from works of art such as cross section samples, have the spatial resolution necessary to isolate small quantities of organic material present in such samples, and sufficient sensitivity to provide molecularly specific identification of material classes that are currently difficult to identify. The new approach uses an atomic force microscope (AFM) to sample and collect material at submicron resolution. The material is then analyzed by a combination of high-resolution laser spectroscopy and mass spectrometry (resonant laser mass spectrometry, RLMS). Importantly, this method retains the bulk of the sample for analysis by other complementary techniques that may be available in conservation science laboratories.

1) Develop an optimized AFM-RLMS instrument for routine use, based on investigation and understanding of the physics and chemistry of the underlying sampling processes;
2) Build an extended spectroscopic catalogue for identification of target materials by RLMS;
3) Promote the use of the technique by making the instrument available to researchers in the field to facilitate further development of applications of the technique
4) Foster the next generation of scientists working in field of cultural heritage research and encourage the interdisciplinary integration of research and practical utility for the conservation field.

University of California Santa Barbara, Department of Chemistry, de Vries Research Group

Team Members

Catherine Patterson, Associate Scientist, co-Principal Investigator
Karen Trentelman, Senior Scientist
Alan Phenix, Scientist (2013-2015)

UCSB Department of Chemistry, de Vries Group
Mattanjah de Vries, Professor, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, co-Principal Investigator
Jacob Berenbeim, graduate student researcher (2014-present)
Sam Boldissar, graduate student researcher (2015-present)
Shawn Owens, graduate student researcher (2013-2015)
Lisa Gulian, graduate student researcher (2012-2013)

National Science Foundation (NSF) CHE 1241779

Shawn C. Owens, Jacob A. Berenbeim, Catherine Schmidt Patterson, Eoghan P. Dillon and M.S. de Vries. "Sub-Micron Proximal Probe Thermal Desorption and Laser Mass Spectrometry on Painting Cross-Sections." Analytical Methods 2014, 6(22), 8940-8945 (DOI: 10.1039/C4AY00919C).