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John F. Asmus

Science at the service of art

Published in 1990clockTime to read: 35s
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For more than 40 years, John Asmus’s work has taken many unexpected turns, from nuclear propulsion in space to high-tech art conservation.

locationChina

A pioneer in the use of laser light for cleaning and renovating works of art, Dr John Asmus, of the University of California, stumbled into the field serendipitously in the 1970s, a time when lasers were seen to apply chiefly to medicine, defence and industry.

I have been acknowledged as the grandfather of laser art conservation, an epithet that I am extremely proud of.

A turning point in his career was a commission to use lasers to restore China’s ancient terracotta warriors for which he won his Rolex Award. Unfortunately politics intervened and his Chinese colleagues were reassigned to industrial laser projects. However, the project was instrumental in founding LACONA, the international association for Lasers in the Conservation of Artworks.

Asmus progressed in this field, where his discoveries have created a new branch of science, inspired hundreds of scientists and helped restore numerous masterpieces. He says the knowledge and publicity he gained from the terracotta warrior project led to invitations to work on masterpieces such as the Mona Lisa. He has lectured at museums, universities and professional societies and has appeared on television around the world. He is currently investigating other applications for the technology.

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