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Fluid preservation refers to specimens and objects that are preserved in fluids, most commonly alcohol and formaldehyde, but also glycerin, mineral oil, acids, glycols, and a host of other chemicals that protect the specimen from deterioration. Some of the oldest natural history specimens in the world are preserved in fluid.
Despite the fact that fluid preservation has been practiced for more than 350 years, this is the only handbook that summarize all that is known about this complex and often confusing topic. Fluid Preservation: A Comprehensive Reference covers the history and techniques of fluid preservation and how to care for fluid preserved specimens in collections.
Although most fluid-preserved specimens are found in natural history and medical museums, it is not at all uncommon to find them in art museums, history museums, and science centers. In addition to animals, plants, and anatomical specimens, fluid preserved collections include some minerals and fossils and many other objects.
Fluid Preservation: A Comprehensive Reference is an essential reference for:
- Natural history curators
- Natural history collections managers
- Medical and anatomical museum collections managers and curators
- Art and history museum staff who have fluid preserved specimens and objects in their care (e.g., works by Damien Hirst)
- Private collectors
- Researchers using museum collections as sources of DNA, isotopes, etc.
- Health and safety professionals
- Exhibit planners and designers
- Museum facilities planners and managers
- People interested in the history of science
- People interested in the history of natural history museums
- Museum studies students
Part I. Fluid Preservation Techniques and Collections
Chapter 1. History of Fluid Preservation
Fluid Preservation in the Ancient World
History of Ethyl Alcohol
Origin of the Name Alcohol
The Discovery of Preservation of Specimens in Ethyl Alcohol
Early Instructions for Preserving Specimens in Fluids
Later Instructions for Preserving Specimens in Fluids
Fluid Preserved Collections
Other Fluid Preservatives
Chapter 2. Fixation
Origin of the Names Formaldehyde, Formol, and Formalin
Formaldehyde as a Fixative and Preservative
Fixative pH Range
Fixatives for Botanical Specimens
Temperature, Time, and Rates of Penetration of Fixatives
The Penetration-Fixation Paradox
Lipids and Fixation
Formaldehyde and Field Work
Post-Formaldehyde Fixation Washing
Unwanted Effects of Formaldehyde
Alternative and Proprietary Fixatives
Chapter 3. Preservation
Preservation without Fixation
Transfer between Fluids
Old Fluid Preservatives
Botanical Use of Fluid Preservation
Fluid Preservation for DNA Extraction
Clearing and Staining
Anatomical and Histological Fluid Preparations
Mounting Specimens Inside Containers
Glycol, Phenol, and Phenoxetol as Preservatives
Criteria for Evaluating Alternative Fixative and Preservative Fluids
Chapter 4. Effects of Fixatives and Preservatives on Specimens
Changes in Body Dimensions and Biomass
Changes in Color
Solvent Extraction in Fixatives and Preservatives
Chapter 5. Managing Fluid Preserved Collections
Identification of Fluid Preservatives
Checking Fluid Concentration
Re-Use of Old Alcohol
pH of Preservative Solutions
Preparing Fixatives and Preservatives
Containers and Seals
Alternatives to Glass Containers
The Storage Environment
Topping Up and Replacing Preservatives
Why do Closures Fail?
Bacterial and Fungal Growth in Fluid Collections—Detection and Remediation
Rehydration of Fluid Preserved Specimens
Exhibition of Fluid Preserved Specimens
Dealing with Old Containers and Old Specimens
Repair of Damaged Fluid Preserved Specimens
Health and Safety
Chapter 6. Fluid Preserved Collections as Cultural Patrimony
Why Preserve Specimens in Fluid?
The Fluid Preserved Human
Fond Memories of Fluid Preservation
Fluid Preservation in Visual Art
Fluid Preservation in Literature
Fluid Preservation in Film
Fluid Preservation in Popular Culture
The Aesthetics of Fluid Preservation
Part II. Literature in this Field
Chapter 7. Literature Cited.
Chapter 8. Literature Reviewed but Not Cited
Part III. Reference Tables
Table 1. Fluid preservation techniques.
Table 2. Timeline of milestones in published fluid preservation techniques.
Table 3. Tissue matrix types.
Table 4. Proprietary fixatives (based on manufacturer’s MSDS, advertisements, and published analyses).
Table 5. Narcotizing agents.
Table 6. Disinfectant mechanisms of some preservatives (based in part on Volk and Wheeler 1984).
Table 7. Summary of factors that affect the long-term usefulness of fluid preserved specimens (after Simmons 2002).
Table 8. Timeline of the known introduction of chemicals in fluid preservation.
Table 9. Anatomical fixation and preservation techniques.
Table 10. Clearing and staining techniques.
Table 11. Disinfectant mechanisms of some preservatives (based in part on van Dam 2003).
Table 12. Criteria for identifying alternative preservative fluids (based in part on van Dam 2003).
Table 13. Summary of fixative and preservative induced changes in invertebrates.
Table 14. Summary of fixative and preservative induced changes in invertebrates by taxonomic group.
Table 15. Summary of fixative and preservative induced changes in vertebrates by taxonomic group.
Table 16. Summary of fixative and preservative induced changes in vertebrates by taxonomic group.
Table 17. Proprietary preservatives (based on manufacturer’s MSDS, advertisements, and published analyses).
Table 18. Summary of published fluid concentration and pH testing of fluid preserved collections.
Table 19. Characteristics of containers for fluid preserved specimens (based on Simmons 2002).
Table 20. Oxygen permeablility of container materials.
Table 21. Published recommendations for label substrates and inks.
Table 22. Rehydration techniques for fluid preserved specimens.
Table 23. Treatments and practices that are not recommended for fluid preserved specimens.
About the Author
John Simmons holds a B.A. in systematic ecology and an M.A. in Historical Administration and Museum Studies. In 1986, he completed the Collections Care Pilot Training Program (funded by the Bay Foundation) to become one of 30 people in the country to receive specialized training in conservation and collections care. He has spent a total of 30 years as collections manager in two of the largest collections of fluid preserved specimens in the United States (the California Academy of Sciences and the Biodiversity Research Center at the University of Kansas). He has published extensively on collections care topics and conducted seminars, workshops, and training programs in the US, Latin America, Asia, the Middle East, and Europe on the care of natural history collections (his previous publications include the AAM standard reference on collections management policies).
"This examination of the science behind the fluid preservation of biological specimens is essential reading for curators and conservators alike. There is a wealth of information in this exceptionally well-researched book which is worth buying for the comprehensive reference list alone! John Simmons has also collected anecdotes and misconceptions about fluid preservation which makes his book a suitable read for those outside the small world of museum professionals."
– Simon Moore, Conservator of Natural Sciences and Cutlery Historian, The National Trust, United Kingdom
"Filled with practical references and recommendations and a bibliography embracing sources from the very beginning of fluid preservation in the early 17th century to DNA preservation, this book summarizes the written knowledge on fixation, preservation, secondary interactions of preservatives and gives valuable information on collection care by exploring available literature far beyond Anglo-American sources. It is more than just a comprehensive reference, it embodies our knowledge of fluid preservation and conveys the most comprehensive practical advice that can be offered, from an author truly devoted to collection care."
– Dirk Neumann, Ichthyology section, The Bavarian State Collection of Zoology, Munich, Germany
"John Simmons has created the ultimate reference on the science and mythology of fluid preservation. Thoroughly researched and written with wry wit, it is an indispensable and highly readable resource."
– Catharine Hawks, adjunct faculty, Museum Studies Program, The George Washington University