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Determining the authenticity of historical objects is a key element for the conservation and restoration of cultural heritage. Ancient materials are often fragile and require non-destructive analysis that allow the material to be investigated in a safe way. Scientific Reports Nature published the results of a first-line analysis for stained glass panels based on absorption spectroscopy, developed at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB).
The museum Ten Duinen in Koksijde (Belgium) was looking for scientific evidence concerning a more accurate dating of two stained glass panels from the 14th century. Legend has it that they were the only remaining glass panels from a devastating fire in the Cistercian abbey.
The composition of coloured glass frames changes with the production procedures and availability of resources throughout time. Spectral examination of the associated characteristic optical fingerprints demonstrates a way of linking the material to a certain period of time. The multidisciplinary research team at the VUB was able to determine the production period of both glass panels as being from the 19th century. In other words, the legend was a good five centuries off the mark.
In addition to identifying the correct date of the colouring of the stained glass panel, the obtained information can be also used to deal with ethical questions regarding authenticity, which benefits a more precise conservation of cultural heritage. Besides the fact that this analysis technique is mobile, the classification of extended collections also becomes feasible in a shorter time frame.
The results of the analysis were possible thanks to a successful interdisciplinary approach by several research groups at the VUB:
• B-PHOT (Photonics) for optical spectroscopy,
• SURF (Electrochemical & Surface Engineering) for chemical characterisation,
• MARI (Cultural Heritage Studies & Archaeology) for the archaeological interpretation of the results.
The application based on optical spectroscopy is also suitable for on other materials. VUB, together with research group AMGC (Geochemistry, Paleontology & Meteorites), has all the know-how and equipment in place to screen, a wide range of material: from ceramics, to eco materials such as fossils, minerals and bones, to metals, metal alloys and even paintings.
As of September, the research teams can be found at the Royal Museums of Art and History (KMKG) in Brussels in the framework of a project in collaboration with Belspo and KIK-IRPA. In a dedicated work space they will analyse the flat glass collection of over 600 glass panels from the Lowlands, for which 5000 measurements are planned over a 4-year period. The findings will be presented in an overview exhibition.
About VUB B-PHOT
VUB B-PHOT is a leading research group in optical and photonics covering expert domains such as optical fibre sensors, nano-photonics, nonlinear optics, semiconductor micro lasers, freeform optics and photonic lab-on-chip. With over 25 years of experience, B-PHOT has been internationally recognized for its fundamental and applied research and industrial innovation that pushes the boundaries of light technology ever further. A multidisciplinary team of 50 highly skilled researchers and engineers - led by Prof. Dr. Ir. Hugo Thienpont - develops innovative solutions that can answer future challenges for health, food safety, heritage, IoT, telecom, green energy, aviation, mobility and industry 4.0. Its advanced Photonics Innovation Center with clean room offers a full high-tech value chain for the development of materials to ready-to-market prototypes. B-PHOT supports SMEs through the European accelerator programme ACTPHAST, by integrating photonics and optics in new business solutions.