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Old book smell indicates its condition

LONDON, Dec. 7 (UPI) -- British scientists say they've discovered the musty odor produced by old books can be used to assess the book's condition and help preserve it.

Researchers from University College London, led by Matija Strlic, say they've developed a test that can measure the degradation of old books and historical documents based on their smell. The non-destructive "sniff" test could help libraries and museums preserve a range of prized paper-based objects, some of which are degrading rapidly due to advancing age, the scientists said.

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Strlic said the musty smell of an old book is the result of hundreds of so-called volatile organic compounds released into the air from the paper. The substances, the scientists said, hold clues to the paper's condition. The new technique, called "material degradomics," analyzes the gases emitted by old books and documents without altering the documents themselves, unlike conventional testing.

The research is detailed in the journal Analytical Chemistry.

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