The impressive appearance of the second largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe, York Minster, has dominated the townscape since medieval times (Figure 1). Representing the architectural expression of developing Christianity during that period, its international historical significance is unquestioned, and the Minster has provided a source of inspiration for scholars through the ages. However, recent centuries have seen conservationists battling to preserve the authenticity of this unique monument for future generations, against weathering of the magnesian limestone exterior stonework by atmospheric pollutants.
Scientists from Cardiff University, the University of Iowa (USA), and Diamond Light Source, have recently investigated the potential of hydrophobic surface coatings as protection for the cathedral walls and grotesques. Their findings, published in this week’s Scientific Reports, a new open access journal from the Nature Publishing Group, may now pave the way to improving masonry resilience to acid rain, and conserving cultural heritage.
The Minster was constructed between 1220 and 1470 using magnesian limestone (CaxMgy(CO3)2) amongst other building materials, much of it sourced from local quarries. These sedimentary rocks possess a fine grained structure, and proved a perfect material for medieval builders finding widespread application in historical buildings across the UK, Europe and North America.
Diamond Light Source is the UK's national synchrotron science facility, located at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire.
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