The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 7, Number 3
Jul 1983


To the Editor:

In response to your question about how someone might prepare to address the more scientific aspects of conservation, I would suggest that material science is a good path to consider. As a distinct field of study, material science is only about twenty-five or thirty years old. It is a non-phenomenological and interdisciplinary approach to the characterization and understanding of all types of materials. Thus, it includes the traditional fields of metallurgy, ceramics and glass science and polymer science, as well as the basic sciences of mathematics, chemistry and physics. The emphasis in material science is the relationship of composition, structure and processing of materials to their properties and uses. It is science applied to the mucky, messy problems associated with real-world material interactions.

The conservation scientist shares these same concerns with the material scientist. Whether one is addressing the problem of corrosion of an ancient metal urn or of making a new ferroelectric ceramic, the understanding and analytical steps are essentially the same. In either case, it is necessary to have a working knowledge of how a material behaves: its properties, how it is made, how it changes over time, and how those changes may be initiated or reversed.

Someone interested in pursuing the study of material science should refer to Metallurgy/Materials Education Yearbook, which is put out at regular intervals by the American Society for Metals (Metals Park, Ohio 44073). (Material science has had a traditional association with metallurgy, so one should not be put off by the title.) There are listings for all of the programs in the United States and Canada which include names, addresses, phone numbers, and research interests of most material science faculty members. Further, there is a listing of programs in many foreign countries including those in Europe, Africa, and the Near and Far East. The foreign listings are not as complete as those for the U.S. and Canada.

Another way to get a feel for the areas covered and the material science approach to problems is to investigate the Journal of Educational Modules for Materials Science and Engineering (JEMMSE). This is an international journal of "peer reviewed and student instructional modules in materials science and engineering." It also has free reproduction rights, so its contents may be used without restriction. This journal is supported by the National Science Foundation and is put together down the hall from my office here in the Materials Research Laboratory at the Pennsylvania State University. It covers a wide range of topics and I have found it very helpful as a basis for my own forays into unknown territories like wood science and adhesives. (For more information contact: EMMSE Project, Materials Research Laboratory, the Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802.)

In the preparation of this note, I am struck by the seemingly "high tech" approach that studies in material science imply. Is this necessary, or helpful, for a scientist interested in problems associated with conservation? the answer is yes, but as with any other field, not all approaches may be appropriate or applicable in all situations. The role of the scientist is to be able to decide on the best methods of solving a problem, to try them, and to evaluate the results in a lucid way. No amount of data, not matter how fancy, can make up for not being able to understand and communicate what the data means.

Susan Barger

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