Dirt Feels Magnetic Pull
New iron-flecked gel is used to remove centuries of grime from paintings
By Jason Farago,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 4, 2007 1:05 PM CDT
Conservation students at the Courtauld Institute, London   (Courtauld Institute of Art)
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(Newser) – Italian researchers have solved an age-old problem of painting conservation with new technology: magnets. Restorers use special gels to work on small areas of a canvas, but removing them has remained a delicate operation that can damage the artwork. Now, Nature reports, chemists at the University of Florence have developed a magnetic gel that can be removed harmlessly.

The gel is a polymer, firm enough to be cut with scissors, that has nanoparticles of iron mixed into it. When applied to a canvas, it sucks up dirt with a cleaning agent that is then reabsorbed into the gel. The magnet then removes the gel. A conservator at London's Courtauld Institute calls the innovation "useful for very delicate surfaces."