19144 - Physics applied to Cultural Heritage

Academic Year 2023/2024

  • Teaching Mode: Traditional lectures
  • Campus: Ravenna
  • Corso: First cycle degree programme (L) in Cultural Heritage (cod. 9076)

Learning outcomes

The couse is aimed at introducing the student to the field of applied physical methods to cultural heritage, in order to assess the state of conservation in the museum environment, with particular attention to the identification of risk factors and degradation agents. The student acquires a basic knowledge of the main investigation techniques and has the ability to deal with real case studies. The student familiarises with the key issues related to risk management and preventive conservation; he/she is also able to critically evaluate suitable scientific approaches for identifying and monitoring degradation agents.

Course contents

The course will explore how scientific-based methods can support preventive conservation practices. It will pay specific attention to the management of risk agents that can affect the preservation of artifacts of archaeological, historical-artistic and archival interest.

The couse is structured as follows:

Risk management for preventive conservation of cultural heritage

  • Definition of risk and analysis of how it has been introduced in the context of preventive conservation
  • Evolution of the concept of risk from the second post-war period to today, through a cognitive path from the first approaches to the development of the current methodologies for its analysis and management promoted by ICCROM (International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property) and CCI (Canadian Conservation Institute)
  • Discussion upon the different phases that characterise and define risk management
  • Introduction to the ABC method for the analysis and prioritisation of potential risk factors, with group exercises
  • RE-ORG: a scientific method for managing stored collections
  • Cultural Heritage and sustainable development: how to increase and amplify activities that support sustainable development through cultural heritage conservation (Our Collections Matter)

Introduction to physical methods supporting the identification of degradation agents and monitoring their impact

  • Introduction to the electromagnetic spectrum, the propagation phenomena of electromagnetic waves and the radiation-matter interaction (with particular reference to IR, VIS, UV, X-rays)
  • The electromagnetic radiation applied to the study of artefacts of archaeological, historical-artistic and archival interest: photography under VIS e UV radiation, introduction to radiography, tomography, and spectroscopic techniques (FTIR, Raman)
  • Documentation and measurement of colours: visible reflectance spectrophotometry (VIS-RS)


The presentations provided during the lessons will be made available to students and will represent the basic materials for exam preparation.

The following texts (a distinction between necessary and recommended for further study is provided) can also be consulted:

Further references for an in-depth study of specific topics can be provided at the student's request.

Teaching methods

  • Lectures supported by PowerPoint presentations
  • Team work, aimed at verifying the correct reception of the contents by the student and stimulating discussion and comparison with colleagues
  • Laboratory experiences (if possible, with portable instruments to be performed in the classroom)

Assessment methods

The exam will take place as an oral interview, through the simulation of a real case study. A scenario (selected by the professor) will be introduced and explained to the candidate, who will be asked to provide/formulate: a methodological approach for the identification and evaluation of potential risk factors and degradation agents and / or a an analytical approach suitable for the evaluation and monitoring of the state of conservation of the artefact/monument/site under discussion.

The exam is aimed at evaluating the achievement of the following learning outcomes:

  • Being able to correctly identify and critically evaluate the main issues that could compromise the conservation of a cultural asset
  • Comprehending the most commonly used analytical techniques and evaluate their applicability to the case study under discussion
  • Knowing how to evaluate the cost/benefit ratio of a technique and its applicability to different contexts

The student's ability to learn how to operate with confidence and autonomy within the secondary literature and the possession of a language and forms of expression appropriate to the discipline will be assessed.

The acquiring of an organic view of the topics discussed in class, along with their critical consideration, a demonstration of mastery and mature expression will be recognized with good marks or excellence. Knowledge, mostly mnemonic of the subject matter, non-articulated synthesis and analysis, and/or language does not always lead to the appropriate marks ranging from discreet to sufficient. Important gaps in training, inappropriate use of language, lack of orientation within the boundaries of the topics and the bibliographic materials proposed by the course will inevitably lead to a barely sufficient grade or a negative rating.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: students enrolled in the course in previous academic years are kindly requested to contact the professor in advance to discuss the program and the assessment method.

Teaching tools

  • Teaching materials made availabe by the professor
  • Some of the portable equipments of the Conservation Science Laboratory at the Department of Cultural Heritage will be, if possible, used in the classroom for practical experiences
  • Artefacts of archaeological, historic-artistic and archival interest

Office hours

See the website of Sara Fiorentino


Quality education Sustainable cities Partnerships for the goals

This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.