Conservation science is concerned with the material and chemical aspects of artwork, its interaction with the environment, degradation mechanisms, and the immediate and long term effects of conservation treatments. The conservation scientist works closely with the conservation and curatorial staff to conduct applied scientific research on the museum’s collection and collaborates with other museum and industrial scientists to pursue basic or fundamental chemical studies.
The specific identification of artists’ materials and their degradation products through chemical analysis is a large part of the cultural heritage chemist’s job. The scientist works with conservators to gain a better understanding of artworks undergoing restoration. This information can be vital in selecting appropriate treatments for the artwork or selecting appropriate storage or display conditions. Furthermore, the conservation scientist can contribute to the body of knowledge surrounding the artwork including its authorship, age, authenticity, and state of preservation by assisting in the determination of the materials and the method of construction of an object. In addition to this type of investigation, often called technical art history, and the service work provided to conservators, museum scientists liaise with their counterparts in industry and academia to develop and test new materials for use by artists and conservators as well as conduct fundamental studies on the degradation of artists’ materials, the development of new conservation treatments, or the construction of new instrumentation for non-destructive, in situ microanalysis.