Treating the Untreatable in Art and Heritage Materials: Ultrafast Laser Cleaning of "Cloth-of-Gold"

Mitsuhiko Kono, Kenneth Baldwin, Alison WAIN, Andrei Rode

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    17 Citations (Scopus)


    Laser cleaning provides art and heritage conservators with an alternative means to restore objects when traditional chemical and mechanical methods are not viable. However, long (>nanosecond) laser pulses can cause unwanted damage from photothermal processes and provide limited control over ablation depth. Ultrashort (<picosecond) pulse lasers are emerging as a more appropriate tool for cleaning historic artifacts because of their unique ability to avoid heat- and shock-wave generation, thus minimizing collateral damage of the underlayers, and to remove material with near-nanometer precision. Here we demonstrate the effectiveness of ultrashort pulses by cleaning 19th century military gold braid without any detrimental effects on the gold foil or the underlying silk thread structure. The results are compared with nanosecond-pulse laser treatment that damages the surface structure. By introducing in situ feedback control of the laser ablation via laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) monitoring of the ablated plume, we are able to halt the cleaning process just as the contaminant layer is completely removed. This technique allows ultrafast laser ablation to extend the armory of conservation treatments, enabling restoration of a range of complex and fragile heritage objects previously untreatable by conventional means.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1596-1604
    Number of pages9
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 3 Feb 2015


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