Published in

MDPI, Molecules, 7(25), p. 1705, 2020

DOI: 10.3390/molecules25071705



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Plastics in Heritage Science: Analytical Pyrolysis Techniques Applied to Objects of Design

This paper is made freely available by the publisher.
This paper is made freely available by the publisher.

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The first synthetic polymers were introduced as constituents of everyday life, design objects, and artworks at the end of the 19th century. Since then, the history of design has been strictly connected with the 20th century evolution of plastic materials. Objects of design from the 20th century are today a precious part of the cultural heritage. They raise specific conservation issues due to the degradation processes affecting synthetic polymer-based plastics. Museums and collections dealing with the conservation of design objects and modern materials need to base their conservation strategies on compositional data that reveal the formulations of historical plastics and their decay processes. Specific and specifically optimized analytical tools are thus needed. We employed flash analytical pyrolysis coupled with gas chromatography and mass spectrometry (Py-GC/MS) and evolved gas analysis coupled with mass spectrometry (EGA-MS) to characterize “historic polymeric materials” (HIPOMS) and heritage plastics at the molecular level with high chemical detail. This approach complements non-invasive spectroscopic diagnosis whenever it fails to obtain significant or complete information on the nature and the state of preservation of the materials under study. We determined the composition of several 20th century design objects (1954–1994) from the Triennale Design Museum of Milan (Triennale Milano - Museo del Design Italiano), which for different morphological, chemical, or physical reasons were unsuitable for characterization by non-invasive spectroscopy. EGA-MS proved capable for the study of the different fractions constituting heterogeneous micro-samples and for gaining an insight into their degradation processes from the contextual interpretation of thermal and mass-spectrometric data.