Taking care and preserving the cultural heritage is a concept of living that our cultures have developed relatively recently as a public interest, while for many centuries it was restricted to an elite group of prominent people who could provide care to the conservation of fine pieces of art, with important private collections and the foundation of art museums.
In the second half of the twentieth century, the theoretical revolutionary discoveries of the beginning of the century, such as relativity and quantum mechanics, started to bear innovative gifts. This led the way to the domain of electromagnetic waves and quantum electronics, and new unexpected technologies arose such as electronics, laser and optoelectronics, and computer and space technology.
In particular, the specific features of laser radiation have been employed advantageously in many different fields, from biomedics to telecommunications, in manufacture, production, and so on. In fact, the possibility of high-power operation, the coherence properties, the wavelength options offered by the number of gas and solid-state laser sources, and the techniques based on these properties have often been the key solution for many technical problems.
These technologies have changed so many different human activities in the last 30 years that the importance of laser application in art conservation could apparently be considered straightforward, after the first proposal in 1971.
But no, it was not so easy, and it took the entire last decade of the twentieth century to fulfill the initial promises. In this chapter we will review the beginning, describe the crucial steps, and provide the state of the art of the field.
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