Demonstration given at the SPNHC 2014 Democamp re: Infrared Thermal Imaging for Collections Management.

Speaker: Nigel R. Larkin

Event: The SPNHC (Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections) meeting in Cardiff, Wales, in June 2014.

Natural history collections often contain specimens with conflicting environmental requirements. Therefore the (sometimes subtle) differences in environmental conditions within a collections storage area should be exploited appropriately - if the different microenvironments can be identified and quantified. Digital infrared thermal imaging cameras can be used to instantly and accurately measure and visualise even subtle temperature gradients within a store, to provide a much more detailed understanding of the complexities of a three-dimensional space than any other datalogging equipment can currently provide. The differences in temperature can be used to infer likely differences in relative humidity levels as well. Digital infrared images present their temperature data in a highly visual format that is generally intuitively understood and is easily analysed with proprietary software. Using an infrared camera to investigate storage or display areas will reveal, for instance, temperature gradients due to stratification, hot spots, cool drafts, damp patches and unlagged heating pipes under floors etc – all of which would otherwise be invisible. Some of these differences will be subtle but some can be surprisingly abrupt and extreme, and none would be picked up by ‘traditional’ methods unless a huge amount of time and money were deployed. Whilst infrared cameras are sometimes used in museums to investigate where energy (and finances) can be conserved, their application for collections management purposes is rare simply due to a lack of awareness of how the technology can be usefully applied. Several factors influence the accuracy of the interpretation of the data so training is required.

Above left: Example 1 - an unlagged hot water pipe clearly runs under the floor in this art store (about which the curator knew nothing), creating a large local warm spot under clutter, creating conditions pefect for pest infestation (the curator simply had to remove the clutter). Above right: Example 2 - this gallery has a surprisingly wide range of microenvironments including warm spots on the walls created by spotlights, cool spots due to air vents and also some stratification of temperatures. Interestingly, the beams behind the plaster of the wall are also apparent.

To listen to and/or watch the demonstration given in Cardiff, click on the following link and choose 'Demo 4', then wait for a minute or so whilst the various leads were sorted out before the demonstration got underway (you will need Adobe Connect to run the demo): SPNHC 2014 Democamp

Purpose of the technique: The analysis of the subtle - and not so subtle - variations in temperature (and therefore potential variations in RH) within a museum storage or display area, allowing a deeper understanding of the museum environment analysed and therefore better collections management within the area.

Intended Users: Collection managers, curators and conservators.

Classification: Digital infrared thermal imaging equipment (still and video) and software analysis of digital images.

Technology and Integration:
Various infrared thermal imaging cameras are available. All these cameras take normal digital photographs at the same time as taking digital infrared images; some also take digital infrared videos. Every single pixel in the image is a thermal datapoint and in the proprietary software the data can be analysed pixel by pixel. Shapes can be drawn within the image with the software and the data within the shapes can be averaged etc. All the digital infrared images can be saved in normal formats such as Jpeg etc. and used in normal software documents. The ‘FLIR E40bx’ demonstrated takes infrared still images and video, it has an image resolution of 160 × 120 pixels (providing 19,200 temperature data points in a single image), the working range is -20°C to 120°C, the thermal sensitivity is <0.045 °C, the built-in ‘normal’ digital camera is 3.1 megapixels, it has one LED spotlight, and it has wireless/Bluetooth technology.

Licensing Model: Proprietary software is included in the purchase of the infrared camera.

Platform Requirements: Proprietary software can be loaded onto a PC or Mac.

For more about the SPNHC 2014 Democamp, use the following link:

If you would like a PDF copy of the paper 'Infrared thermal imaging as a collections management tool' (Journal of Natural Science Collections, Volume 1, 2013. Pp 59 - 65), you can find it here.

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