Nonlinear imaging microscopy for assessing structural and photochemical modifications upon laser removal of dammar varnish on photosensitive substrates
The nonlinear optical microscopy (NLM) modalities of Multi-Photon Excited Fluorescence (MPEF) and Third Harmonic Generation (THG) have been combined in this work to characterize as a function of depth with micrometric resolution the type and extent of morphological and photochemical modifications that take place upon ultraviolet (UV) pulsed laser removal of a dammar varnish layer applied on a photosensitive substrate. The latter consists on a layer of the synthetic polymer poly-methyl methacrylate doped with a photosensitizer, the aromatic compound 1,4-di[2-(5-phenyloxazolyl)] benzene, that strongly fluoresces upon UV light illumination. A number of laser conditions for partial or total elimination of the varnish coating were explored, namely different wavelengths (266, 248 and 213 nm) and pulse durations, in the nanosecond, picosecond and femtosecond ranges. Changes in the MPEF signals upon laser ablation of the outermost varnish layer successfully signpost photochemical modifications of the varnish or of the photosensitive under-layer, and their dependence with the laser ablation parameters, i.e., wavelength and pulse duration. In turn, THG signals mark the presence of layer boundaries and the reduction by laser ablation of the thickness of the varnish coating. The obtained MPEF and THG data are complemented by morphological observation by optical microscopy and measurements of laser induced fluorescence and micro-Raman spectra of the samples before and after laser ablation at the selected laser irradiation conditions. The results acquired through these non-destructive NLM imaging techniques serve to understand the phenomena that are induced upon laser ablation and to determine the best operating conditions that ensure controlled removal of the varnish with minimal morphological and chemical modifications to the under-layers. This research is of direct application to the UV pulsed laser cleaning of paintings and demonstrates the potential of NLM as a novel assessment tool for non-destructive, on line monitoring of the laser cleaning process.