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Laser Cleaning on Stonework: Principles, Case Studies, and Future Prospects

Part of the Cultural Heritage Science book series (CUHESC)


The use of laser light to selectively remove and/or precisely reduce unwanted layers and encrustations from the surface of cultural heritage (CH) objects and monuments was systematically investigated during the past 30 years bringing about a significant breakthrough in the field. This chapter aims at briefly introducing the reader to the basic concepts of laser cleaning, while highlighting the critical and decisive parameters that determine an efficient and successful laser ablation on stonework. Limitations ensuring a safe process are discussed, and good practice guidelines for laser cleaning interventions are presented, with emphasis to their practical implementation in three laser cleaning projects with different conservation challenges. Finally, ongoing issues related to careful assessment and reliable monitoring of the process are discussed.


  • Laser cleaning
  • Stonework
  • Good-practice guide

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  1. 1.

    1 cubic micrometer (μm3) is a SI measurement unit of volume with sides equal to one micrometer (1 μm = 1 10−6 meter = 1 millionth of a meter).

  2. 2.

    1 nanosecond (ns) = 1 10−9 second = 1 billionth of a second.

  3. 3.

    The absorption coefficient (a) defines how much light of a given wavelength/color (λ) is absorbed by a material of a given thickness.

  4. 4.

    The thermal conductivity (k) of a material is a measure of its ability to conduct/transfer heat.

  5. 5.

    The heat capacity (C) denotes the the amount of thermal energy required to raise the temperature of a substance by one degree.

  6. 6.

    λ = The length of one complete light wave. Wavelength is a key characteristic of the laser light, usually fixed for any given laser system, and characterizes the “colour” of its monochromatic dimension (measured in nm).

  7. 7.

    F = the energy (E) delivered per unit area. In practice this is measured as F = E/S (measured in J/cm2), where E is the output energy of the system for a single laser pulse and S the surface of the irradiated area.

  8. 8.

    τp = The duration of a single laser pulse (τp ranging from several microseconds (μs, 10−6 s) to picoseconds (ps, 10−12 s) are commonly used in laser cleaning applications).

  9. 9.

    Transportable pulsed laser cleaning systems emit beams with circular diameter, usually in the range of 5–9 mm. Using appropriate focusing optics the size of the beam diameter can be regulated and eventually focused to as small as 1 mm.

  10. 10.

    Heraklion, GR (1995), Liverpool, UK (1997), Florence, IT (1999), Paris, FR (2001), Osnabrück, DE (2003), Vienna, AU (2005), Madrid, ES (2007), Sibiu, RO (2009), London, UK (2011), Sharjah, UAE (2014), Kraków, PO (2016), Paris, FR (2018) and forthcoming Florence, IT (2022).

  11. 11.

    SFR: Short free running 50–120 μs and LQS: Long Q-switched 120–950 ns.

  12. 12.

    1 ps = 10−12 s = 1 /1000 ns and 1 fs = 10−15 s = 1/1000 ps.


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This manuscript reflects knowledge gained within the past 20 years through multidisciplinary research carried out at IESL-FORTH. Fruitful teamwork with all the colleagues who contributed to the experiments and applications, as presented in the original publications, is acknowledged, while the guidance and collaboration from the personnel of the Acropolis Restoration Service, the Acropolis Museum, “Lithou Sintirissis” Conservation Associates, and the Ephorate of Antiquities of Heraklion in Crete is considered particularly important. Financial support by several National, European, and other funds was decisive for this research. The EU Research Infrastructures operating at FORTH (a) ULF-FORTH offering transnational access since 1990 as an active partner and among the founders of LASERLAB Europe, (b) IPERION-CH, H2020-GA-654028, (c) IPERION-HS, H2020-GA-871034 and (d) ensured the ideal research environment to strengthen the laser research landscape and foster networking between the laboratories and CH end-users.

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Pouli, P. (2022). Laser Cleaning on Stonework: Principles, Case Studies, and Future Prospects. In: Gherardi, F., Maravelaki, P.N. (eds) Conserving Stone Heritage. Cultural Heritage Science. Springer, Cham.

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