Preserving Plastics

Preservation of Museum Plastics with Atmospheric Plasma Deposited Barrier Coatings

In the video below, a nano-glass coating is uniformly applied to the brown piece of test plastic using an atmospheric plasma in our lab.

No single class of material technology defines the 20th century as do plastics. Advances in polymers have shaped our culture, values, and engineering abilities. Plastic is found in our most iconic objects: from Barbie dolls to pop furniture to space suits, modern collections are replete in these materials. However, this art carries a heavy price in terms of preservation.  Many of these objects are degrading faster than the technology is being developed to safely preserve and present them for public display. Ironically, with the increasing interest in biodegradable and recyclable plastics in the last few decades, commodity plastics are even more likely to include materials that are engineered to degrade. As conservators of cultural heritage, we need to be proactive; finding methods and materials that will allow for the preservation of a wide range of plastic object types, rather than letting ‘deterioration rate’ select for us which artifacts will survive.