Conserving Spock's Ear

Posted on Thu, September 6, 2018
  • by: Gabrielle Barone, Digital Experiences intern
favorite

It’s become one of the most well-known appendages in pop culture history—Spock’s pointed ears, signaling him as half-Vulcan, and now synonymous with the beloved sci-fi series. The Museum’s conservation team recently treated a replica ear in our collection.

In the original Star Trek series, Spock’s ears were made of foam rubber. While the Museum did have the original Star Trek prosthetic ears on display in 1992, the newly conserved (singular) ear is a polyurethane rubber replica which was not used in the show. The replica was made by Doug Drexler, a Star Trek fan who went on to produce art and visual effects for later adaptations of the series.

Drexler created the ear as an homage to the series while he was the co-owner of a Star Trek fan-only organization. The Star Trek fandom has been an important part of the series said Margaret Weitekamp, space history curator.

Fan involvement —like going to conventions dressed in costumes, or making your own props or art —allowed those who love Star Trek to be “somewhat equal and active players in [the series], as opposed to just recipients of what had been created,” Weitekamp said. The replica ear was Drexler’s way of giving an inside nod to the rest of the fan community.

The replica ear joined the Museum’s collection in 1986, but in recent years was showing signs of deterioration. Museum conservators tackled the challenge of how to keep the ear’s original form, while also trying to keep the porous and delicate rubber intact for as long as possible.

image of rubber ear tip on a mold of a full ear

The replica polyurethane rubber ear attached to a plaster ear mold form.

Close Up of Spock Ear

Detail, showing the delicate and degraded state of the foam rubber.

Polyurethane foam can be tricky because of its sponge-like cellular structure. The material “tends to go back to the basic components that it was made from over time,” said Malcolm Collum, Engen Conservation Chair and Chief Conservator. “When that open cellular structure starts to chemically break down, the biggest challenge is getting any kind of consolidating material down into that spongy network.”

The conservation team used Impranil® DLV/1, a product of Covestro, to treat the ear.

The substance is being used more and more frequently in the conservation of polyurethane foam in museum collections. It works by forming a stable and elastic coating on the degraded foam structure – basically, reinforcing the foam structures that are still intact.  

As Spock himself once said, “change is the essential process of all existence.” Even for a plastic mold of an alien ear.