Ca’ Foscari student invents nano-gel to clean artistic heritage

From Ca’ Foscari student to inventor, the transition was quick. Fascinated by a class on the effectiveness of the bio cleaning of stones but disappointed by the lack of applicability of the technique on artistic heritage, Irene Scarpa thought there had to be a solution. She found it  in the synergy between organic and inorganic nano-particle systems by developing a product that has been patented and will rise to a university spin-off company.

Monuments exposed to the weather, such as statues and stone facades, are breeding grounds for microorganisms responsible for the growth of lichens and of the characteristic patina, black or green, which often covers them. Cleaning these formations usually requires toxic chemicals or expensive enzyme products that are arduous to apply.

Nasier Gel’, the name of the product chosen by the twenty-nine year old Venetian inventor, has already passed the tests of the experts, finding interest from restorers and institutions, from the Baths of Caracalla in Padua to private collectors who have also tried the effects of the gel on the canvas of a painting.

“Irene had clear ideas and a lot of determination”, recalls Loretta Storaro, professor of the chemistry of nano-materials in the Department of Molecular Sciences and Nanosystems, part of the interdisciplinary team that gave the green light to the development of Nasier Gel. "The result - she explains - is the outcome of a study of bio and nano-technologies, uniting these with the world of restoration. This project allowed for the world of academic research to come together with the world of business.”

"Working on this nano-composite, - adds Pietro Riello, professor of physical chemistry - we engineered a system that we considered to be promising. In practice, this system exceeded expectations. The product is more expensive than what is commercially conventional, but the advantages are clear in terms of the reduction in application time, non-toxicity, simplicity, versatility and duration of effect. Quality pays for itself. Additionally, during the experiments, we were able to reduce the production costs of nano-structured composite from 500 to 180 euro per kilo, opening the door to the idea of a spin-off. The research does not end here, of course, and the hope is to go on to find an industrial partner".

Various tests continue to be performed in the laboratories of the Scientific Campus at the Ca' Foscari University of Venice. Irene Scarpa has collaborated with Elisabetta Bullo, who graduated with a degree in Chemical Sciences for Conservation and Restoration. They conducted their last test on lichens that covered a cement statue: within twenty minutes, the gel had taken away all of the impurities on the statue and degraded the biological patina.

"The gel only attacks the patina, not the surface of the work. - explains Scarpa - Nanostructured compounds have far-reaching potential. The nanometric dimensions of the particles increases the contact surface with the patina needing to be removed. This allows for the use of very little product and a short response time compared to traditional methods."