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Materials

Hydrogel Cleans Up Sticky Paper Artifacts

Enzyme-infused hydrogel releases controlled amounts of water to remove paste from old books and papers in one smooth step

by Celia Henry Arnaud
September 29, 2014 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 92, ISSUE 39

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Credit: Alasdair Skelton
Researcher Margareta Andrén crouches near the borehole where water was collected.
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Credit: Alasdair Skelton
Researcher Margareta Andrén crouches near the borehole where water was collected.

An important task in conserving paper artwork is removing old glue and paste. But the wet cleaning methods traditionally used can damage fragile artwork. Hydrogels have been used to soften glues, but the hydrogel itself must then be removed. Antonio Palleschi of the University of Rome Tor Vergata, in Italy, and coworkers have now developed a rigid hydrogel infused with the starch-digesting enzyme α-amylase designed for easy removal after cleaning paper artwork (ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces 2014, DOI: 10.1021/am504295n). The researchers started with a commercially available dextran hydrogel and loaded it with α-amylase. The hydrogel releases less water into the paper than would be required in a typical water bath. The team was able to remove the rigid gel and digested paste in a single step without needing to scrape it off, and the material left no residue on the paper. The researchers used the system to remove paste from various paper samples, including fragments from 18th- and 20th-century books.

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