[ASC-media] Aboriginal art to get laser cleaning

Sarah Brooker sarah.brooker at ozemail.com.au
Tue Aug 22 02:41:18 CEST 2006

Tuesday 22 August 2006

Australian treasures including Aboriginal paintings and funerary poles could
soon be getting a state-of-the-art clean thanks to the latest laser

Deb Kane, professor in the physics department at Macquarie University in
Sydney, will tell a Melbourne audience this week of her team's plans to use
short pulsed lasers to clean contaminants from the surface of some of
Australia's unique heritage.

She's on a national tour promoting women in physics, at a time when physics
is booming, and industry is desperate to attract more physicists. 

This year's Australian Institute of Physics (AIP) 'Women in Physics'
lecturer, Professor Kane has for some time been using lasers to clean the
surface of very small objects such as optical materials. 

"At the sub-micron level particles can become strongly adhered to surfaces,"
says Professor Kane. "Removing such contaminants, without damaging the
properties of the underlying material, can be very tricky and raises
fundamental questions about how materials work at small scales." 

Now Professor Kane has won seed funding which will enable her to use her
understanding of materials to help conserve Australian artwork. 
"Australia has a wonderful heritage of Aboriginal work," explains Professor
Kane who is excited to start preliminary testing to gauge the effect of
lasers on cleaning Australian artefacts. 

According to Professor Kane, varnishes used on paintings, for example, often
darken over time causing the loss of the true colours. She hopes to use
lasers to strip away such varnish and reveal the true colours hidden

Lasers have already been used on masterpieces in Europe, such as the Mona
Lisa and Michelangelo's David, but, says Professor Kane, this is the first
time the technique has been applied to Australian works. "I am anticipating
we can do some exciting things with textiles too," she says.

Professor Kane will reveal the details of her work at three lectures in
Melbourne this week - one to fellow scientists, one to the public and a
third to school children. 

Melbourne is the first stop on a nationwide tour as Professor Kane takes her
passion for physics to a wide audience. 
"It's important for us to bring the value, and the passion of our science to
the public," says Professor Kane who is particularly keen to inspire school
children in physics. 

"There's perhaps a perception that you have to be really smart to do
science," she says. "But there's a whole range of great opportunities and
jobs in science. You don't have to be the leader of the whole project. There
are opportunities in science-related areas for all abilities. It's about
finding it exciting and wanting to know more about our world."

"Deb Kane has made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of physics
in Australia," says David Jamieson, AIP President. "The AIP's Women in
Physics program aims to encourage women to develop careers in physics, by
having a woman of research excellence give lectures to high schools and
universities around Australia."

"The 2006 tour comes at a time when physics is booming in Australia, with
large projects such as a new nuclear reactor, and a synchrotron under
construction, and an unprecedented demand for physics graduates," says

Professor Kane is the tenth annual AIP Women in Physics lecturer. She will
be giving a public lecture on Wednesday 23 August at the University of
Melbourne in the Elizabeth Murdoch Theatre A - 6pm for 6.30 pm.

For more information or to interview contact: Deb Kane on (02) 9385 5928 or
David Jamieson, President of the Australian Institute of Physics on (03)
8344 5376 or 0408 344 024

Media contacts for the Australian Institute of Physics: Sarah Brooker 0413
332 489 and Niall Byrne 0417 131 977

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