Staff: R.E. Child and Caroline Buttler

Oxygen is required by all living systems; without it they die. This fact forms the basis of recent developments in insect pest control systems, whereby infested material is placed in an anoxic (no oxygen) environment for a sufficient time to kill the insects. Normally, the objects have their surrounding air replaced by an inert gas such as nitrogen (suitably humidified), and are kept there for 2-3 weeks depending upon the ambient temperature. Alternatively, oxygen absorbers are used to remove oxygen from the air, leaving only nitrogen and the inert gases. Oxygen is also involved in a large number of degradative processes such as rusting, pyrite rot of pyrite rocks and fossils, fading of pigments etc. Anoxic environments can be used to prevent these kinds of deterioration.

Pivotal to the success of anoxic treatments is gas-tight enclosures, and we are continuing to evaluate, develop and test different materials for their suitability. These include gas barrier plastic films that can be heat sealed to form bespoke bags for objects. We are also looking into developing anoxic display cases for exhibition of very delicate materials.