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MFA for Educators

Engage your students with the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to illustrate themes and concepts in any discipline.

The Science Behind Art Conservation

This lesson is designed to introduce students to art conservation at the MFA by focusing on the science behind restoration, as well as, the historical significance of the artifacts.   


After decades, sometimes centuries, of exposure to the elements, objects' surfaces deteriorate, thus requiring conservation. Conservators use scientific techniques such as scanning electron miscroscopy, X-radiography, and oxidation-reduction chemistry. This scientific applications help conservators authenticate, investigate, and preserve cultural heritage for furture generations to enjoy and study. 


Learning Goals

Teachers will:

Be able to draw real world connections of scientific processes and concepts to practical applications--art conservation.  Teachers will also be able to engage students who are science-inclined to embrace art. These artworks will make for dynamic group discussions about art, science, and culture in the classroom.


Students will:

Learn about the importance of preserving art.  Through learning about the techniques and processes of conserving and restoring works of art, students will be introduced to the concepts of how science fits in the art world and vice versa.  Moreover, students will learn about various scientific concepts relating to chemistry and physics, both of which are incorporated in art conservation. Furthermore, students will learn about the philosophy behind the preservation of cultural heritage. Students may also learn about subjects of art from different cultures and time periods that would invoke the admiration of the arts.  Students will learn to appreciate a more nuanced look at the narratives found in and expressed through art works.  


Using this Resource

This lesson is recommended for students studying chemistry, physics, and/or art history.

The objects in this lesson are just a beginning. For sample related classroom activities, download the PDFs available under Related Resources. We encourage you to explore the Museum's online collection through this web resource—or even better, to visit the Museum and walk through the physical galleries—to look for other objects that will provide further insights into the relationship between words and images.

Related Resources