Maintaining an optimal environment in museums is critical for the preservation of priceless artifacts, particularly those most susceptible to changes in temperature, humidity, and light. Most collections managers in museums have some type of monitoring process or system in place, but most will say it either takes a significant amount of time and resources or is not adequate to mitigate the risks of damage or risk to the exhibits.

According to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, “Acute changes in temperature and humidity will cause swelling and contraction as the materials in an object or artifact attempt to adjust to the environment. Objects are often composed of more than one type of material. Each material responds differently to water vapor in the air and adjusts to its particular EMC (equilibrium moisture content) at different relative humidities. Of particular concern are the internal stresses created by expansion and contraction of the different materials as moisture diffuses into or out of the surrounding air … In the case of an alert, building maintenance crews can react quickly to resolve any problems. This provides invaluable environmental protection for the museum’s collections.”

New technology, commonly known as the Internet of Things (IoT), is making it possible to deploy low-cost, automated monitoring of collections and museum facilities. The IoT technology is a system of battery-powered wireless sensors that can be placed almost anywhere inside a museum or, on an exhibit to monitor temperature, humidity, and ambient light. The sensors transmit their data to the cloud where it is stored, analyzed, and can be viewed anywhere on a computer, tablet, or smartphone. The wireless sensor system completely obviates the need for route-based manual monitoring typically performed in most museums.

The Adler Planetarium recently deployed a large wireless sensor network and immediately saw an increase in efficiency in 10+ hours per week relative to their manual data logging procedure.  Because the system is now completely digital and will send notifications if anything needs attention, Collection Manager, Christopher Helms, now has access to all of the sensor data anytime, anywhere, and the peace of mind knowing his exhibits are safe.

If you’d like to read more about the Adler Planetarium success story, click here, to see how IoT is transforming the museum industry, one exhibit at a time.