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Grant number like: PR-50141-12

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University of Wisconsin System (Madison, WI 53715-1218)
Vance L. Kepley (Project Director: May 2011 to January 2016)

Research and Development
Preservation and Access

[White paper]

$200,000 (approved)
$178,133 (awarded)

Grant period:
1/1/2012 – 8/31/2015

Investigation of Cellulose Nitrate Motion Picture Film Chemical Decomposition & Associated Fire Risk

The testing of cellulose nitrate film stock with the goal to create guidelines for the handling and long-term storage of this flammable medium on which much of the 20th century's still and moving image humanities content is stored.

This grant will support empirical research about the related threats of cellulose nitrate motion picture decay and flammability. The project will be co-investigated by two University of Wisconsin-Madison institutions--the Wisconsin Center for Film & Theater Research and the Mahanthappa Research Group--in partnership with the Wisconsin Historical Society. Used as the base for all professionally-produced motion pictures made between the 1890s and the early 1950s, cellulose nitrate is chemically unstable and highly flammable. Unfortunately, very little data about these risks is available to the preservation community. Project results will be published in a white paper targeted at an audience of archival professionals, and, as relevant, in amendments to the International Standard (ISO) and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards on nitrate handling and storage.