November 2009 | Jonathan Shipley

Having a Nose for Old Books

Material degradomics analyzes the gases emitted by old books and documents without altering the documents themselves. What does this mean? Scientists can now tell the condition of an old book by giving it a whiff. The brief story is here with the full report here.

From the piece...

In a report published in the American Chemical Society's Analytical Chemistry, a semi-monthly journal, they describe development of a new test that can measure the degradation of old books and precious historical documents on the basis of their aroma. The non-destructive "sniff" test could help libraries and museums preserve a range of prized paper-based objects, some of which are degrading rapidly due to advancing age, the scientists say.

Matija Strli? and colleagues note in the new study that the well-known musty smell of an old book, as readers leaf through the pages, is the result of hundreds of so-called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released into the air from the paper.