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Yale University (New Haven, CT 06510-1703)
Paul Michael Whitmore (Project Director: June 2015 to June 2019)
Rui Chen (Co Project Director: October 2016 to June 2019)
Effects of Relative Humidity Fluctuations on Paper Permanence

A Tier I proposal to examine chemical and physical degradation in paper artifacts as a result of cycling temperature and humidity. This application builds upon a 2001 study by the Yale Aging Diagnostics Lab (ADL) examining the degradation of rag paper when exposed to humidity cycled between 25% and 75% every two hours at room temperature. The proposed second phase study would explore the key factors that determine the magnitude of risk, such as paper composition, humidity range, and cycling speed. Three different types of paper (rag, acidic newsprint, and alkaline book paper) would be studied to assess physical and chemical changes that occur during different environmental conditions. Molecular weight, tensile strength, elasticity, color and moisture content would be assessed to gauge the effects of these fluctuations on each type of paper.

This research will use material analysis to define a relative humidity range and fluctuation rate that does not cause permanent physical and chemical damage to paper-based objects. A rag paper, acidic newsprint, and modern alkaline book paper were selected to study the key factors that determine risk, paper composition and humidity excursions. Two humidity ranges will be tested, one defined as "safe", the other akin to no humidity control. The rate of humidity shift, one rapid and one slow, will control the applied shear forces. The molecular weight, tensile strength, color, and moisture content of the papers will be measured following exposure to quantify chemical and physical changes to the papers. Results will provide evidence of the risk of exposing paper-based artifacts to large or rapid changes in relative humidity. This work will clarify the conditions that best preserve paper-based artifacts using scientific data and will prolong access to original materials.

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Project fields:
Arts, Other

Research and Development

Preservation and Access

$74,650 (approved)
$74,648 (awarded)

Grant period:
1/1/2016 – 6/30/2018