I realized that we are often showing the glamorous side of our job here in the lab through our blog posts… nice objects, good progress, fun discoveries… but unfortunately we are not always mucking around in dirty USS Monitor gunk. That would be too good to be true!
A large part of the background work in the lab is controlling the desalination baths. This notably involves logging pH measurements and analyzing the amount of salt extracted for each tank. Indeed, progress can only be achieved if the pH is stable and salt is removed from the objects. Boring, I know. In fact, even crawling around the Monitor’s goo on fun days intent on freeing more salt from the objects (in addition to making them look pretty). The process of extracting the salts out of the objects is also what is taking forever… especially for such large artifacts like the ones we have here. However, if we do not do it properly, objects, especially those made of metal, can develop what is called “active” corrosion once dried (i.e. a corrosion process that does not end and feeds itself). And of course, this is the opposite of what we want to achieve when it comes to conservation. So, desalination is a must in order to share these artifacts and their stories to the public in exhibits.
We have about 30 large tanks filled with high pH solutions and metallic artifacts in the lab (and MANY other smaller containers in other locations). Every trimester, the large tanks solutions are sampled and analyzed for the amount of salt present. We are actually very lucky to have an Ion Chromatograph (IC) that can analyze up to 40 samples at once for us (thanks to donations!). Without this apparatus we would have to undertake this analysis using titration for every sample which would most likely take up all of an employee’s time. The IC machine also allows us to re-run the samples as many times as we want. We love it!
I do not believe that the IC machine was ever showed in the blog, so… here it is, in case you are wondering what this could possibly look like.
Next week Lesley will tell you all about another boring yet highly needed part of our job as she will describe the yearly endeavor of what we call the “metal survey”. Stay tuned!