Olga Darcanova preserves the past | Nobel Prize Winners in Lindau | DW | 12.07.2013
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Nobel Prize Winners in Lindau

Olga Darcanova preserves the past

If you had to explain your research topic to your grandmother or your little sister, how would you do it?
I work with cultural heritage, old books, old letters, old paintings – because I like old stuff. I want to protect and save it for coming generations. So, I use chemicals to preserve it. Of course I don’t use real old stuff, but instead I use old receipts, old ink that I make myself. With the help of chemicals I induce an aging process. And afterwards I add other chemicals to se whether something changes with these chemicals: In the color, in the material, how much force do you need to tear it apart, so that in the end I can find a good mixture to help protect the old stuff.

How did you arrive at this research topic?
Actually, a bit by accident. In Lithuania, you have to say which three subjects you’d like to study. My first choice was to go to the art academy in graphics, the second was chemistry. And as I missed taking the exams for the art academy, I got chemistry. I didn’t want to do biochemistry but instead I chose chemistry for conservation in my bachelor studies. I was really surprised, it was not only lectures about chemistry – analytical, organic, polymer chemistry – but it was also about art – aesthetics, philosophy, buildings, paintings, paper. And paper is what I liked most.

What motivates you to do this work?
It’s like magic to see how materials change when you put chemicals on them. And to see that the change is dependant on the amount and composition of the chemicals. Taking a picture before and afterwards and seeing the difference in how it looks and feels. And the fact that you haven’t seen it in a film, but did it yourself. So the final results you get are what is exiting and what motivates me.

And what inspires you?
Working with motivated people, for example, to feel their passion for whatever topic.

In your research motivation you said that knowledge is important for people – what kind of important knowledge do you create?
To me it is important that the chemicals I use are not harmful to people, to the documents and the environment. I want to do no damage, but to save everything. And if you save old documents as part of our cultural heritage you are also doing something for people.

What is the one thing you would like to find out before the end of your scientific career?
I am not sure that I will get something good, but I will try. At this point it is already satisfying and interesting to work with this.

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