Ultrasensitive Monitoring of Museum Airborne Pollutants Using a Silver Nanoparticle Sensor Array

Zheng Li, Zhiwei Wang, Javid Khan, Maria K. Lagasse, Kenneth S. Suslick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The preservation of cultural heritage materials requires extremely low concentration limits for indoor pollutants. This poses an unmet challenge for monitoring the artwork in museums and on exhibit, especially to do so in a cost-effective manner for a large number of locations. A novel type of colorimetric sensor array based on printed inks of 10 nm silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) with several different capping agents has been developed as an alternative to metal coupons or other passive sampling indicators traditionally used by conservators. The AgNP colorimetric sensor array, combined with digital imaging, offers ultrasensitive dosimetric identification of acidic and oxidizing gases and other air pollutants commonly found in a museum; the limits of detection are sub-ppb for 1 h exposures. For an array of AgNP inks with various capping agents, a unique and distinguishable color response pattern is observed for each specific analyte. Excellent discrimination among 11 gas pollutants over a wide range of concentrations was demonstrated using standard chemometric methods. The observed changes in color during pollutant exposure originate from the sintering of solid-state nanoparticles that leads to changes in the localized surface plasmon resonance. Such chemically induced sintering mechanism of nanoparticles paves the way for a new class of field-deployable solid-state optical sensor arrays. As an example, we have demonstrated the use of AgNP sensor arrays for the nondestructive analysis of acidic volatile emission from five types of printing paper, relevant for the conservation of cultural heritage objects, including ancient manuscripts and books.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2783-2791
Number of pages9
JournalACS Sensors
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 25 2020


  • airborne pollutants
  • artwork conservation
  • colorimetric sensor array
  • nanoparticle sintering
  • nanosilver
  • ultrasensitive detection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Bioengineering
  • Instrumentation
  • Process Chemistry and Technology
  • Fluid Flow and Transfer Processes


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