The Problem with Plastics

Petronella Nel, Julianne Bell, Alice Cannon and Karina Palmer

Since their discovery more than a century ago, plastics can now be found almost everywhere - in toys, clothing, cars, appliances and photographs. Unfortunately, it has now been realised that many plastics degrade over time – they collapse, ooze, crack and crumble.

As museums acquire increasing numbers of plastic objects, their preservation is becoming one of the major collection management issues of the 21st century. It's a topic that conservators Petronella Nel, Julianne Bell, Alice Cannon and Karina Palmer are keenly investigating. Join them to hear how they are identifying and managing problematic plastics in museum collections around the country.

Recording to follow.


  • Petronella Nel is a Lecturer at the Grimwade Centre at the University of Melbourne. She is leading a collaborative ARC Linkage Project 'A national framework for managing malignant plastics in Museum Collections'. She is interested in developing analytical techniques for characterising materials in order to inform their preservation.
  • Julianne Bell is a PhD student at the University of Melbourne, funded by an Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Project scholarship. Julianne’s PhD research focuses on investigating strategies to improve the management and preservation of three-dimensional, historic plastic objects in Australian museum collections. The project will use comparative ageing experiments, industry interviews and collection surveys, and also establish the first nationwide polymer database for the museum industry.
  • Alice Cannon is the Acting Manager of Conservation at Museums Victoria and was previously the manager of the Museum's collection risk management program. She trained as a paper conservator in the early 1990s and has also completed a graduate certificate in Photographic Materials Conservation and Master of Arts by Research. She is interested in adhesives for paper substrates, collection risk management, and data collection and analysis.
  • Karina Palmer is Senior Conservator for Collection Preservation at Museums Victoria. She graduated from the University of Canberra in 2001 and completed a Master of Art Curatorship at the University of Melbourne in 2008. Karina oversees the preventive work of the paper, objects and natural science collections. Her recent focus is on environmental monitoring, collection surveys and plastics conservation. 

Visit the PolyMuse website - Conserving Polymers in Museum Collections.

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