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Good pollution: Smells in museums

Thu, Apr 8, 2021    1pm

Good pollution: Smells in museums - A lecture by Matija Strlič

In a museum environment, smells can be associated with the identity of the place, such as the ‘smell of knowledge’ in a historic library. The presence of volatile organic compounds, constituting the smell, can add a sensory dimension to the appreciation of heritage. At the same time, it can increase engagement with the exhibits.

However, research on smells emitted by historic objects has traditionally focused on potential damage to collections and visitors. And yet, smells, in concentrations detectable by the human nose, may not necessarily pose a threat to collections and can provide valuable scientific information on material decay. The talk will focus on the role of smells in the sometimes difficult balance between engagement and preservation, and a positive case for “pollution” in museums.

Matija Strlič is Professor of Analytical Chemistry at University of Ljubljana, Professor of Heritage Science at University College London and Senior Research Fellow at Smithsonian Institution’s Museum Conservation Institute, chemist by training and accredited conservator. His main research interests are the development of heritage science infrastructure, including instrumentation and methodology, as well as modelling of heritage materials, environments, values and decision making. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and of the International Institute for Conservation. In 2015, he received the Ambassador of Science of the Republic of Slovenia Award for the outstanding achievements in science and international collaboration.


Organized as part of the Preservation Lecture Series, an initiative of the Historic Preservation Program at Columbia GSAPP. Free and open to the public. Virtual events hosted on Zoom Webinar do not require an account to attend.

GSAPP is committed to providing universal access to all of our virtual events. Please contact Meredith Brull via email at hp@arch.columbia.edu to request disability accommodations. Advance notice is necessary to arrange for some accessibility needs.