UT Physicist Helps Save ‘Old Glory’

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A University of Tennessee scientist is helping search for hidden damage to the Star Spangled Banner so it can be restored.

Dr. Bill Blass is part of a five-member team sponsored by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center that is scanning the flag with a special NASA camera built originally to study Martian rocks.

Blass, a UT-Knoxville physics professor, said the camera’s infrared images can find problems such as excess moisture and oils in the flag fabric. Though hard to see, they cause the wool of the flag to deteriorate, he said.

”Many problems have accumulated over years. They are invisible to the naked eye and gradually worsen over time,” Blass said. ”With infrared imaging we can locate these things much better that you can by just looking at it.”

The images also will locate areas weakened from wear, Blass said.

The Star-Spangled Banner has been at the Smithsonian Institution since 1907. It flew over Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Md., during the War of 1812, inspiring the U.S. national anthem.

Despite meticulous care, it is deteriorating from decades of exposure to light, air pollution and temperature fluctuations, Blass said.

After it is scanned, the flag will be moved from its hanging position in the National Museum of American History for a three-year, multi-million preservation and restoration project by the Smithsonian Conservation team.

It will be remounted in a new enclosure designed to prevent new damage from pollutants, light, or temperature fluctuations.

”This flag has been through a lot since being bombarded by the British. It’s had a rough life,” Blass said. ”Because it’s made of wool, the elements have been hard on it.

”The closer we look, the more we will be able to help the restoration team do their special kind of work.