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Friday, June 1 • 4:00pm - 4:30pm
(Problematic Materials) Investigation of Cellulose Nitrate Motion Picture Film Chemical Decomposition & Associated Fire Risk

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Is deteriorated cellulose nitrate film relatively inert, "comparable to the flammability of paper," as ISO standards state, or is it shock sensitive, presumably more like an explosive, as the Kodak MSDS for cellulose nitrate film tells us? Disparities about cellulose nitrate film abound in the literature which then pose challenges for the conservator and collections care professional in making choices for these materials. Strict government regulations about storage, handling and transportation -- based on conflicting information in the literature -- compound the problem. The purpose of the Wisconsin Nitrate Film Project was to understand the chemical processes by which cellulose nitrate decomposes and to ascertain whether deteriorated nitrate film stock is more dangerous than nitrate stock in good condition. The project sought to establish the validity of the five-stage classification model for cellulose nitrate degradation, to understand the friction sensitivity of cellulose nitrate "brown powder," to closely investigate the role that relative humidity plays in degradation pathways and to engage with the regulatory community which establishes handling and storage requirements for cellulose nitrate. This presentation describes the results of three avenues of research undertaken during this NEH funded project: Chemical and physical testing on samples of heritage nitrate film (still and motion picture); evidence gathered through oral histories, a survey of archives, and the creation of an extensive annotated bibliography of cellulose nitrate related literature; and it describes our interactions with the National Fire Protection Association. Future research and advocacy needs are defined.

avatar for Kathleen Mullen

Kathleen Mullen

Preservation Coordinator, Wisconsin Historical Society
Kathleen Mullen is the Preservation Coordinator for the Wisconsin Historical Society, Division of Library, Archives and Museum Collections, a position she has held since 2010. She oversees book, paper and objects conservation in that position, as well as audio-visual preservation... Read More →

avatar for Heather Heckman

Heather Heckman

Associate Dean for Technology, University of South Carolina
avatar for Dr. Mahesh Mahanthappa

Dr. Mahesh Mahanthappa

Professor, Chemical Engineering and Material Science, University of Minnesota
A native of Boulder, Colorado, Mahesh K. Mahanthappa received his B.A. in Chemistry and Mathematics at the University of Colorado in 1997, while performing undergraduate research with Professor Gordon T. Yee. As a Hertz Fellow at Stanford University, Mahesh studied the mechanisms... Read More →

Friday June 1, 2018 4:00pm - 4:30pm MDT
Texas Ballroom C Marriott Marquis Houston