Monday, November 16, 2009

More on the smell of books

I've blogged previously about this ingenious spray for Kindle and other hand-held devices, but for those who want to know more about the research that lies behind household items like these, here's the abstract of a recent paper that appeared in Analytical Chemistry

Material Degradomics: On the Smell of Old Books
Matija Strli*†, Jacob Thomas‡, Tanja Trafela§, Linda Csfalvayov†, Irena Kralj Cigi§, Jana Kolar and May Cassar†
Centre for Sustainable Heritage, The Bartlett School of Graduate Studies, University College London, Gower Street (Torrington Place site), London, United Kingdom WCIE 6BT, Tate, Millbank, London, United Kingdom SW1P 4RG, Faculty of Chemistry and Chemical Technology, University of Ljubljana, Akereva 5, Ljubljana, Slovenia SI-1000, and Morana RTD d.o.o., Oslica 1b, Ivanna Gorica, Slovenia SI-1295
Anal. Chem., 2009, 81 (20), pp 8617–8622
DOI: 10.1021/ac9016049
Publication Date (Web): September 17, 2009
Copyright © 2009 American Chemical Society

We successfully transferred and applied -omics concepts to the study of material degradation, in particular historic paper. The main volatile degradation products of paper, constituting the particular “smell of old books”, were determined using headspace analysis after a 24 h predegradation procedure. Using supervised and unsupervised methods of multivariate data analysis, we were able to quantitatively correlate volatile degradation products with properties important for the preservation of historic paper: rosin, lignin and carbonyl group content, degree of polymerization of cellulose, and paper acidity. On the basis of volatile degradic footprinting, we identified degradation markers for rosin and lignin in paper and investigated their effect on degradation. Apart from the known volatile paper degradation products acetic acid and furfural, we also put forward a number of other compounds of potential interest, most notably lipid peroxidation products. The nondestructive approach can be used for rapid identification of degraded historic objects on the basis of the volatile degradation products emitted by degrading paper.

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