And the Academy Award Goes to...A-D Strips!!

No kidding—IPI won an Academy Award in 1997. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented a Technical Achievement Award to James M. Reilly, Douglas W. Nishimura, and Monique C. Fischer of Image Permanence Institute for the creation of A-D Strips Film Based Deterioration Monitors. (The A-D stands for "acid-detecting".) To make it even more exciting, Ashley Judd presented the award.

Monique C. Fischer, James M. Reilly, Douglas W. Nishimura at the Oscars

IPI's goal was to develop an acid detector which would work as an "early warning system" to identify films in the first stages of vinegar syndrome. Research had shown that acetate decay is autocatalytic, meaning that the acidic byproducts of acetate decay accelerate further decay. Acidic vapor can contaminate nearby films in good condition, putting a whole collection at risk. A safe and reliable tool to detect the early stages of decay was needed so that steps could be taken to remove the deteriorating films—to place them in a colder location or duplicate and discard them.

Pile of A-D StripsA-D Strips are acid-base indicator papers that turn from blue, through shades of green, and finally to yellow in the presence of increasing amounts of acid. Once exposed, the strips change color by reacting to the amount of acidic vapor present in a confined air space around the film. The more dramatic the color change, the more advanced the film decay. The color changes are then compared to a color scale printed on the reference pencil provided in each package. Although both nitrate and acetate plastics are prone to chemical decomposition, A-D Strips are designed for use with acetate film. It should be noted that A-D Strips don't provide useful information about the state of preservation of polyester film base.

A-D Strips in ProductionInitially, IPI staff prepared the A-D Strip coating solution, coated the paper, dried it, then cut it into 3/8" x 1 9/16" strips which were stacked in groups of 250 and placed in re-sealable plastic bags. These bags were then placed into foil bags which were heat sealed, labeled, and then packed in an A-D Strip envelope with an instruction booklet and a pencil. Today the production of the strips themselves is outsourced, but IPI staff still does the last four steps in house for every package we sell—and we sell an average of 1,600 packages each year. Based on that figure, we estimate that over half a million acetate based objects are tested for condition every year.

A-D Strips allow you to safely and accurately check your film collection for vinegar syndrome. The strips can be used to determine the approximate extent of acetate support degradation in individual films, or they can be used as a survey tool to provide an overview of the condition of films in an entire collection. The results of A-D Strip analysis help you to prioritize materials for segregation or duplication and provide an overview of the storage needs of a collection.