Dr Breitung details


The Met is evaluating and implementing advanced analytical materials testing methods and protocols to assess materials being used either in contact or near works of art.  Museums, libraries, and archives have, for decades used the fairly rudimentary and difficult to reproduce ‘Oddy test’ to evaluate materials.  For this test, the material in question is placed in a jar with a small amount of water and metal coupons made of pure lead, silver, and lead.  The jar is sealed and aged at 60C for 28 days.  Materials that cause the metals to tarnish or corrode are considered unusable near cultural heritage objects.  The Oddy test not only suffers from irreproducibility, but it also was designed around protecting metals.  Even historical cultural heritage contains organic materials such as velum and paper, and it is unclear whether the metal-based Oddy test is appropriate.

The Preventive Conservation Science Laboratory in The Met’s Scientific Research Department is exploring gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GCMS) methods to evaluate materials, and Ion Chromatography (IC) and UV-Vis reflective spectroscopy are being utilized to evaluate a paper-coupon version of the Oddy test.  These methods provide an opportunity to move The Met and the art conservation science community from a labor intensive, subjective, and irreproducible test to automatable and quantifiable tests that provide options for understanding how best to modify or ‘clean’ commercially available materials and address the issue of the sensitivity of organic materials when compared to metal materials.  This presentation will provide a brief overview of the Preventive Conservation Science Laboratory, which is responsible for advising art conservators, designers, curators, and building engineers on how best to provide a safe environment for The Met’s collections, and it will provide an in-depth look at materials testing at The Met.



Eric Breitung has a Ph.D. in Physical Organic Chemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He previously worked at General Electric's R&D center. He now works at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. He helps art conservators preserve the priceless works of art. He studies the ways that various art materials age and degrade, and consults with the museum's building engineers to produce an environment that helps prevent damage to everything from modern artwork made from polymers to ancient pieces made from metal. His work requires him to use a variety of instruments to perform organic analysis, but he also gives tours to classes and other members of the public. He enjoys the collegial, collaborative environment, working with capable, motivated colleagues. 

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