Low-Cost Mercury Vapor Monitoring

In collaboration with Dr. Rosie Grayburn and Dr. Joelle Wickens, Melissa has been managing the implementation of a research project to determine a safe storage option for mercury-containing mirrors. Many mirrors manufactured before the 19th century contain tin-mercury-amalgam. Some of the mirrors within the Winterthur Museum collection are actively dripping mercury, and there is a dire need to evaluate the efficacy of storage solutions for containing mercury liquid and vapors.

(Image to the right): William Donnelly secures one of Winterthur’s mercury-tin amalgam mirrors within a proposed polyethylene storage methods to bring to the closet for the experiment.

Dr. Grayburn reached out to researchers Brolo et al at the University of Victoria who have developed sensors that change color over time when exposed to mercury vapors with the use of porous nanonstructures of Vycor® glass (PVG) impregnated with reduced gold nanoparticles. These sensors were developed specifically for the gold mining industry as a dosimeter for workers that can be analyzed with a cell phone camera.

The project involves the installation of sensors surrounding an actively dripping mercury-containing mirror. The study requires regular photography of the sensors over time and involves the efforts of 10-15 student and teacher volunteers at WUDPAC. The first round of photographs and sensors will serve as a control, and a second round of sensors and photographs will be employed after the mirror has been covered in a polyethylene sleeve to compare the amount of mercury vapor present in the room.

Melissa completed diagrams of the storage space to send to researchers at the University of Victoria who offered suggestions for the placement of the sensors.

To learn more about the preliminary research completed by Dr. Rosie Grayburn, Catherine Matsen, and Dr. Joelle Wickens click here.