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Building science capacity within historic preservation is a long-term investment in the future of our cultural heritage. NCPTT is performing new research and creating new technologies with partners across our nation and within the National Park Service. Building science capacity in historic preservation gives professionals the tools they need to perform their work better.

Over the last year, NCPTT has been able to increase its research capability through the addition of new equipment, staff, and staff training. NCPTT has acquired key equipment through purchases and through equipment transfer from other Park Service Units. The completion of the Department of Defense rehabilitation standards in September freed up base operating funds and allowed the purchase of new equipment including (1) a Konica-Minolta Vivid-9i laser scanning camera, (2) a Gardner PG-X portable contact goniometer, (3) an Olympus IPLEX Videoscope system, (4) a Leica digital microscope camera, and a (5) FLIR Infrared Camera. Through a transfer of equipment from Harpers Ferry Conservation Center, NCPTT received a Rigaku X-ray Diffraction System and a Varian CP-3800 Gas chromatograph/2100 D Mass Spectrometer.

Tools of the Trade

NCPTT is using lasers to address conservation and preservation problems. NCPTT and Joshua Tree National Park entered into a project agreement to test the use of NCPTT’s tempest laser to remove graffiti from rock art sites. Conservator Claire Dean and conservation scientist Meg Abraham demonstrated the appropriate use of a portable laser system at a rock image site in Joshua Tree National Park. The site has been heavily vandalized with graffiti. Based on the testing that was completed, the conservators learned that it was feasible to use the portable laser system in the difficult topographic settings presented by this site.

Jason Church uses Konica Minolta laser scanner to study native pot from Williamson Museum

Jason Church uses Konica Minolta laser scanner to study a native pot from Williamson Museum.

NCPTT is using the Konica-Minolta Vivid-9i laser scanning camera to document medium sized pottery and other objects from the Williamson Museum at Northwestern State University. Rodney Meziere, a student in the Masters of Arts in Heritage Resources program, is developing a prototype virtual museum using this equipment. The Vivid-9i laser scanning camera makes precise and accurate measurement of objects by producing three dimensional laser point clouds. Digital images can be placed on the point clouds to create a virtual object. Meziere is undertaking a literature review, learning scanning techniques, and identifying 10 objects from the Williamson and Roque House Museums to create the virtual museum prototype. NCPTT staff received in-house training on the operation of the camera, followed by three days of software training in Durham, N.C. on Geomagic imaging software.

New ways to study cultural heritage are emerging through NCPTT research. Building on previous NCPTT grant-funded work, NCPTT’s Curtis Desselles developed a new low-cost instrument for eddy current analysis that allows conservators to see through layers of corrosion and recover lost inscriptions. For example, NCPTT has worked with NSU students to study obscured inscriptions on French iron crosses that mark the graves of early Louisiana settlers. Also, eddy current analysis provides data for identifying metal composition, determining layer thickness of coatings on metals, and finding metal defects.

Recent staff training includes Laser safety training and ion chromatography training. Jason Church completed forty hours of laser safety officer training and now serves as NCPTT’s laser safety officer. Carol Chin received training on the use of new software that controls the ion chromatograph within NCPTT’s environmental research facility. The improved software is aiding in the study of air pollution deposition to treated and untreated limestone samples.

Convening Authorities

NCPTT is building science capacity in the National Park Service by participating in strategic NPS meetings. Mary Striegel and Kirk Cordell contributed to the NPS Science Dialog held on March 10 in the NPS Southeast Regional Office, Atlanta, Ga. The dialog was conducted by Dr. Gary Machlis, Senior Science Advisor to the NPS Director, with the goal of forming a new science initiative within the Park Service. The meeting focused on science needs within the Park Service and outlined mechanisms to achieve high standards for Park Service science. NCPTT emphasized the need for more cultural heritage scientists, a better understanding of materials science, and more research into sustainable preservation practices.

Cordell and Striegel provided guidance to the Park Service on the care of national cemeteries through participation in the first ever National Park Service National Cemetery Summit hosted by Andrew Johnson National Historical Park, Dec. 16-17, 2009 in Greeneville Tenn. This meeting grew out of NCPTT’s National 2009 Cemetery Summit and brought together representatives of 13 out of 14 NPS National Cemeteries, as well as representation from the National Cemetery Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs. Topics include finalizing NPS national cemetery policy (Director’s Order 61), creating an action plan, developing a Reference Manual 61 draft, and sharing best practices and challenges associated with NPS cemetery operations. Striegel presented an overview of NCPTT’s comparative study of commercially available cleaners for headstones. Cordell presented an overview of Congressional Concerns and shared the results of the NPS evaluation of National Cemeteries. The outcome of the meeting was a consensus regarding Director’s Order 61 and the establishment of a working group to develop the reference manual.

Cemetery preservation skills are offered to National Parks through annual NPS Tel courses. Technology enhanced learning classes are broadcast to park sites in every state. Through this system the NCPTT teaches NPS employees the fundamentals of sound cemetery preservation. The NCPTT course, Essentials for Cemetery Monument Care, was broadcast on March 3, 2009. It was followed by a one-hour program on basics of iron fence repair. The latter course included important skills needed for repairing fences and ornamental ironwork.

Sharing Knowledge

In the summer of 2009, NCPTT contributed its expertise to the development of the Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) Standard Rehabilitation Treatments to improve management of its built heritage. Initial drafts of 34 four standards were completed by a DoD contractor. Advisory Council review indicated that these treatments needed substantial revision. The DOD turned to NPS as a national leader in preservation technology, and NCPTT offered much needed expertise on the preservation of stone, masonry, metals, wood, and various building components. Through the concentrated work of may of the NCPTT staff, the standard treatments were revised, edited, and illustrated on time and within budget. Future application of these DOD standard treatments should minimize potential damage from incorrect or poorly conceived rehabilitation efforts.

NCPTT continues to transfer specialized, hands-on skills to the historic preservation community through state-of-the-art workshops on topics like the proper care and maintenance of historic ironwork. NCPTT held a three-day workshop on the topic in New Orleans, La., June 18-20, 2009, and incorporated lectures on the metallurgy of iron work, hands-on sessions on conservation treatments, and a tour of a blacksmith’s shop to observe replication of missing iron elements in fences and balconies.

NCPTT continues as a nationally recognized leader in cemetery preservation. In July, 2009, Kirk Cordell served on a review panel appointed by the NPS directorate to review management practices at NPS-owned National Cemeteries. A weeklong inspection of NPS and Department of Veterans Affairs cemeteries resulted in a series of recommendations addressing policy, budget, and staffing issues at the NPS cemeteries.

Francis Miller discusses microgrout injection during a hands-on session at the Nationwide Cemetery Preservation Summit, Nashville, Tenn.

NCPTT invited NPS cemetery managers and a host of other interested professionals to its Nationwide Cemetery Preservation Summit held in Nashville, Tenn., Oct. 19-21, 2009. The summit brought over 100 leading cemetery preservation experts from around the nation to address planning, landscapes, archeology, documentation, and materials conservation in cemeteries. The meeting included two days of lectures, posters, and vendors, followed by field sessions highlighting conservation efforts at Nashville City Cemetery. The summit also included a half-day session on National Cemeteries. NCPTT used its online and social networking capabilities to livestream the Nashville cemetery summit. Individual presentations from the summit are posted on NCPTT’s website.

NCPTT also released a new video, “Lifting and Hoisting a Grave Marker.” Often the repair and maintenance of a broken grave marker requires moving large heavy pieces of stone that are too heavy to lift by one or two people. This video demonstrates the use of an economical tripod hoist and provides important safety recommendations.

NCPTT’s expertise is being recognized by others. NCPTT and its partners received a 2009 District of Columbia Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation for the Congressional Cemetery Historic Monuments Restoration Project. NCPTT developed novel treatments for use on marble monuments in the cemetery, comparing appropriate cleaning methods for application to fragile surfaces on the U.S. Arsenal and the General Alexander Macomb monuments.

Striegel also participated in consultations on repairs and maintenance for the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery, offering advice and recommendations for cleaning and repairing the main die block of the monument. She urged the Army to set aside decisions to replace the monument in favor of long-term maintenance and repair and offered guidance for the scope of work and selection criteria for treatment of the tomb.

Partnerships in Science

The National Center is also partnering with universities to develop grant applications for the new National Science Foundation “Chemistry and Materials Research at the Interface between Science and Art” grant program. This program seeks to enhance collaborative activities between conservation scientists, chemists, and materials scientists to address grand challenges in the field of cultural heritage science. NCPTT will serve as a non-funded partner with North Dakota State University on a proposal to develop and monitor innovative coatings for outdoor metal sculpture. Additionally, NCPTT will serve as a non-funded partner with the University of Southern Mississippi and Hybrid Plastics on a proposal to develop a new line of polymers for use in preservation of stone cultural heritage.

NCPTT is interested in transferring technologies to the preservation field using cooperative research and development agreements (CRADA). The National Center is working to develop a CRADA with Hybrid Plastics, Inc for the design, development, and application of POSS® technology to conservation and preservation needs. An intellectual property agreement is being developed to clarify property rights regarding advances in eddy current technologies devised by Curtis Desselles.

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National Center for Preservation Technology and Training
645 University Parkway
Natchitoches, LA 71457

Email: ncptt[at]nps.gov
Phone: (318) 356-7444
Fax: (318) 356-9119