Lasers have been a game changer in our society. When Theodore Maiman perfected the first laser on May 16, 1960, he described it as, “A solution looking for a problem.”  Since then, lasers have been used to address all sorts of problems facing scientists, military experts and health care providers. 

Forest Park has its own game changer in the field of lasers. Bartosz Djanowski has invented a revolutionary new laser for cleaning cultural objects. It’s portable, plugs into any outlet in the world and is extremely precise. To develop and market this device, Djanowski founded G. C. Laser Systems Inc. The initials stand for “game changer.”

Djanowski recently conducted courses in the use of his laser at the Conservation of Sculpture and Objects Studio (CSOS) at 900 Des Plaines Ave. He is vice director and his father, Andrzej Djanowski, is the founder. His first class attracted a dozen conservators from Canada, California, New York, Chicago and the state of Washington.

It was a three-day training program that used the studio for classroom purposes and the nearby Forest Home Cemetery for practical hands-on training. The students cleaned the granite base of the cemetery monument marking the graves of Thomas and Beatrice Hartman.

“It was a win-win to clean the monument,” Djanowski said. “It was practical and useful for the participants, and they can put it on their resumes. Plus, the cemetery received high-end treatment of a monument, at no cost.”

Djanowski worked with local historian Mark Rogovin to select “candidates” for cleaning. They concentrated on monuments in the vicinity of the Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument and Radical Row. They cleared the project with the cemetery director, Deborah Clark, and Djanowski wrote letters to the families of the deceased to obtain permission.

“The nice thing about cemetery projects is that we can complete the cleaning in one day,” Djanowski said. “These are historic, outdoor, exposed stones, in a prominent location.”

Djanowski has put in 14-15 years fixing lasers all over the world. He said that his new invention was “the result of over a decade of frustration and inconvenience with lasers.”

It took him 10 years of research and development, using a revolutionary design concept, to perfect the device. Most lasers used a linear pattern but his uses a circular scan pattern. It cleans twice the area and is more consistent, with “no hot spots.”

Djanowski was able to design and build his laser, despite having no formal engineering training. He has had an extensive education, though, earning his master’s in art conservation from the University of Delaware. He also studied art, culture and conservation in Poland and spent a year studying laser applications at the Military University of Technology in Warsaw. It helps that he is fluent in Polish. Before that, he earned his B.A. in art history and economics at Northwestern University.

After building his prototype and putting it through extensive testing, Djanowski used it to clean Cleopatra’s Needle in Central Park in 2014. The obelisk was a gift from Egypt. It is 70 feet tall and 3,500 years old.

In 2011, Egyptian officials threatened to take it back, because it was being neglected. It had a layer of dirt from decades of burning fossil fuels. Conservators used lasers to give it a cleaning that will last for 500 years.

“There were seven lasers on the site,” Djanowski said, “And my one laser did 65 percent of the project. It was reliable and productive and out-performed everything else.”

He explained that the laser cleans the contaminated layer by “exciting the molecules and breaking them down.”

It vaporizes carbon, grime and corrosion.

“It has an extraction vacuum, so it doesn’t contaminate the environment,” Djanowski said.

There is a big demand for laser cleaning and Djanowski teaches the technique to employees, interns and colleagues at CSOS. They have gotten commissions all over the world, including cleaning the façade of the U.S. Supreme Court building, the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa and French Corbels at the Art Institute.

“There are many soot-covered treasures all over the world, due to auto traffic,” Djanowski said

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.