Money Matters - Simplified

Scientists seek to 'polish' a technique

Baltimore -- The chore of polishing the family silver may become a thing of the past, as U.S. scientists say they may have banished tarnish to history.

Researchers at the University of Maryland and the Walters Art Museum are developing a microscopic coating they say can slow the tarnishing of silver to a nearly undetectable rate, The Baltimore Sun reported Monday.

A $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation will fund the project to refine a process known as "atomic layer deposition," with the main goal of benefiting museums, like the Walters, which hold extensive collections of ancient silver statues, jewelry and other silver artifacts.

The issue of tarnish is severe for their large collections of fragile and irreplaceable silver items.

"It's a huge problem," Ray Phaneuf, a UM professor of materials science, said. "We've inherited a giant store of precious silver relics from past cultures, and we really need to figure out how to preserve them for future generations."

In atomic layer deposition an object is covered with a metal film no thicker than a single atom that acts as a shield.

In the case of silver, the chemical shield is composed of layers of aluminum oxide and titanium.

The technique "gives us an exquisite level of control, literally at the atomic level," Phaneuf said. "It's an effective strategy to reduce corrosion that preserves artifact appearance and composition."

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI).

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