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In collaboration with the University of Ljubljana (Faculty of Chemistry), the research group Antwerp Cultural Heritage Sciences (ARCHES) of the University of Antwerp (Faculty Design Sciences, Conservation-Restoration) is looking for a doctoral candidate in the interdisciplinary field of Conservation-Restoration and Heritage science, focussing on the understanding, prevention and treatment of degrading silk textiles. Silk, a biopolymer with superior qualities, has been a high-end material since its earliest use. However, it is highly prone to environmental degradation. In the 19th c., a treatment with metals salts was introduced for dyeing purposes and for increasing its weight. The presence of these reactive substances in close proximity to the vulnerable base material resulted in a significant number of degrading silk objects in present-day heritage collections. As to date no conservation treatment proved effective, metal-induced silk degradation is a major concern for museums. This research aims at understanding, preventing and treating affected objects by combining the partners’ expertise on chemical analysis, historical technology, collection management and conservation treatment. We propose unraveling the degradation pathways and assessing the influence of various harmful internal and external parameters. This will be done by producing self-synthetized and artificially aged equivalents of historical material, followed by their chemical characterization. The validity of the insights obtained on these ‘mock-ups’ will be benchmarked by analysis of a number of historical study objects. The results will be incorporated into a hands-on decision tool for the everyday collection management of a museum, via the development of a ‘damage function’. Finally, the aptness of two enzyme treatments, recently developed for industry, will be evaluated for the consolidation of degrading historical silk fabrics.

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