Noninvasive Testing of Art and Cultural Heritage by Mobile NMR
Bernhard Blmich*‡, Federico Casanova‡, Juan Perlo‡, Federica Presciutti§, Chiara Anselmi§ and Brenda Doherty§
Acc. Chem. Res., Article ASAP
Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) has many applications in science, medicine, and technology. Conventional instrumentation is large and expensive, however, because superconducting magnets offer maximum sensitivity. Yet NMR devices can also be small and inexpensive if permanent magnets are used, and samples need not be placed within the magnet but can be examined externally in the stray magnetic field. Mobile stray-field NMR is a method of growing interest for nondestructive testing of a diverse range of materials and processes. A well-known stray-field sensor is the commercially available NMR-MOUSE, which is small and can readily be carried to an object to be studied.
In this Account, we describe mobile stray-field NMR, with particular attention to its use in analyzing objects of cultural heritage. The most common data recorded are relaxation measurements of 1H because the proton is the most sensitive NMR nucleus, and relaxation can be measured despite the inhomogeneous magnetic field that typically accompanies a simple magnet design. Through NMR relaxation, the state of matter can be analyzed locally, and the signal amplitude gives the proton density. A variety of stray-field sensors have been designed. Small devices weighing less than a kilogram have a shallow penetration depth of just a few millimeters and a resolution of a few micrometers. Access to greater depths requires larger sensors that may weigh 30 kg or more.
The use of these sensors is illustrated by selected examples, including examinations of (i) the stratigraphy of master paintings, (ii) binder aging, (iii) the deterioration of paper, (iv) wood density in master violins, (v) the moisture content and moisture profiles in walls covered with paintings and mosaics, and (vi) the evolution of stone conservation treatments. The NMR data provide unique information to the conservator on the state of the object—including past conservation measures.
The use of mobile NMR remains relatively new, expanding from field testing of materials such as roads, bridge decks, soil, and the contents of drilled wells to these more recent studies of objects of cultural heritage. As a young field, noninvasive testing of artworks with stray-field NMR thus offers many opportunities for research innovation and further development.