back to main page
The use of Low Vacuum Scanning Electron Microscopy with

The use of  Low Vacuum Scanning Electron Microscopy with Energy dispersive X-ray spectrometry (LV-SEM/EDS) in Conservation Science

Ulrich Schnell
National Museum of Denmark, Department of Conservation, Brede, DK-2800 Lyngby, Denmark.
Nicoline Kalsbeek
School of Conservation, The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Esplanaden 34, DK-1263 Copenhagen K, Denmark

The introduction of  LV-SEM as a tool in conservation science has greatly improved the possibilities of analysing a wide variety of unique specimens in a non destructive manner. The poster presents a number of examples of how LV-SEM can give valuable information to conservators, archaeologists and curators with minimum damage to the artefact.

Easel paintings:
In order to choose the proper method of conservation of a painting it is important for the conservator to  investigate the layered structure. Analysis of the paint layers can give results that are helpful in dating the painting and  revealing fraud. Normally you are only allowed to take very small samples from pieces of art. Therefore microscopic methods are preferred for the analysis.
Cross-sections of paint samples can be examined in reflected light and with SEM/EDS the different elements in the layers can be detected. With this method many inorganic colours can be identified. After you have examined the sample with LV-SEM you can  immediately microscope it in reflected light, as you do not have the opaque layer of carbon coating on the surface, which is necessary for conventional SEM.
We give examples from paintings recently analysed at the Department of Conservation at the National Museum of Denmark.

Wall paintings:
Many wall paintings are found in churches with big fluctuations in temperature and humidity. Some of the main problems in conservation of wall paintings are deterioration of pigments, efflorescence of salt on the surface and flaking of paint layers. LV-SEM is a powerful tool in studying the identity of  deteriorating pigments and salts from wall paintings.

Lime water consolidation of  a wall painting in Avnsø church, Denmark was examined. During the experiment the painting had been treated with lime water continuously until the wall was saturated. The effect of consolidation was revealed with backscattered electron images showing growth of calcite crystals in the paint layer.

The LV-SEM  technique has a wide range of other applications in conservation science ranging from the study of corrosion products in situ on the surface on small artefacts to fibre analysis of untreated archaeological textiles. The primary advantage of this technique is the possibility of working with uncoated samples which can be preserved for further use.

The presented experiments  were performed on a JEOL 5310 LV SEM with a Link EDS system using a Si(Li) ATW detector. The instrument is located at the School of Conservation, Copenhagen, Denmark.

If you have comments on this home page, or any kind of professional interest in our work please feel free to contact me at or phone me at +45 33 47 35 28.

 back to CV

 back to main page