Plastics’ great future?

August 30, 2018—We’ve all read about the plastic blob that’s forming in our oceans, and we’ve all seen the plastic “coconuts” that litter our trees. It seems plastics are the one thing we can’t get rid of.

Tell that to a conservator, though, and watch her weep. Plastics, a composite of various polymers, tend to self-destruct under the influence of moisture, heat, and UV rays. Popular with artists and designers for their many shape-shifting qualities, plastics are a bane for conservators charged with keeping them stable. Compared to objects made from metal, stone, ceramic, and paper—all around you in the galleries—plastics are newbies. Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit, for example, is full of the stuff. Today, conservators are working against the clock to keep artwork and astronautical history from turning into puffs of dust.

Image credit: Eric Long/National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution News source: Jenna Amatulli, “These Cultural Treasures Are Made of Plastic. Now They’re Falling Apart,” The New York Times, August 28, 2018