Smashing stereotypes – Dr Lisa Briggs

Following on from our blog about how heritage scientists are smashing stereotypes, we are delighted to introduce you to Dr Lisa Briggs, an underwater archaeologist and archaeological scientist at The British Museum. In this blog, she details her career:

For many years I was an underwater archaeologist working on shipwrecks. Armed with an undergraduate degree in Archaeology and Ancient History from the University of Edinburgh, I worked on every project I could, both on land and underwater, but began to specialise in shipwreck sites around the world. When the archaeological excavations I worked on uncovered artefacts of special interest, some were selected to be ‘samples’ destined for the ‘lab.’ The laboratory seemed like a mysterious place where, through spider webs and magic, incredible results and discoveries were achieved that allowed us to learn so much more about the artefacts we had uncovered. After 10 years of wondering what actually happened in these mysterious laboratories, I decided to return to school and have now completed an MPhil in Archaeological Science (Cambridge) and DPhil (PhD) in Archaeological Science (Oxford).  I wish someone had told me earlier how much fun science can be!

My PhD work used DNA and organic residue analysis to study five shipwreck sites in the Mediterranean including finds from the Uluburun, Cape Gelidonya, and Kyrenia shipwrecks. Working on these artefacts was a dream come true. I now work in the Scientific Research Department of the British Museum where I use organic residue analysis to study pottery artefacts from a variety of sites. My favourite thing about my work is being intimately involved in the entire process. My background in archaeology allows me to visit sites and sample in-situ artefacts myself, before exporting these samples to our labs at the British Museum.  This way, I can see exactly how the samples were selected, recovered, handled, stored, and analysed. For example, sunscreen is a common contaminant detected in pottery from archaeological sites in sunny countries because after applying sunscreen archaeologists will sometimes touch the pottery with bare hands when digging it up. When I am allowed to sample artefacts myself I wear powder-free nitrile gloves while digging, sterilise my sampling tools between artefacts, and store the samples in sterilised glass containers while they are awaiting export back to the UK. This way we can eliminate issues of contamination, from the loess to the lab!

My career path may not be the most common one for a heritage scientist, but I think I background in archaeology has allowed me to contextualise the artefacts that I study. In my spare time I enjoy speaking at events that encourage kids, especially girls, to get into STEM subjects by showing them how exciting science can be. At the same time, I advocate for the humanities by showing why archaeology and ancient history are so important for our understanding of what makes us human. Archaeology, I dig it!

Lisa is on Twitter and Instagram as @lisaarchaeology

British Science Week 2022 – Smashing Stereotypes

British Science week are celebrating the diverse people and careers in science and engineering by encouraging STEM employees and researchers to share stories on social media about their day-to day work using #SmashingStereotypes and tagging @ScienceWeekUK. They want to showcase diverse and inspiring teams/individuals in STEM and are choosing some to highlight on their website. You can read those added so far here.

We are encouraging heritage scientists to use this opportunity to share their stories in order to make the field of heritage science more visible. For inspiration, you could read through our collated series of profiles of heritage scientists in training. The profiles highlight the various roles within heritage science and the multitude of way that individuals in the field start out their careers.

We have already had some fantastic examples of #SmashingSteroetyoes shared with us by members. The British Museum is showcasing each day the work of different members of their Scientific Research team. Follow @AntonyPSimpson to find out about roles including Colour Scientist, Underwater Archaeologist and X-ray Imaging Specialist. Some of the tweets are summarised below:

The National Galleries of Scotland has also shared with us a short film celebrating the bravery and dedication of Dr Elsie Inglis (1864 – 1917) who was a physician, surgeon, humanitarian, feminist, and pioneer of medical education for women. You can watch the film here.

If you do share your career stories for British Science Week 2022, please be sure to tag us (@HertSci_UK) and we will share them too.  We hope to help better highlight the wide variety of careers in heritage science and the inspiring ways that heritage scientists are smashing stereotypes.

British Science Week 2022 – Heritage Science in schools

This year, British Science Week has developed activity packs on the theme of ‘Growth’. There are packs for primary schools, secondary schools and communities; all of which include engaging activities that explore all sorts of growth, including buildings, eco-friendly behaviours, animals and even how we can grow plants on Mars! You can access the 2022 resources here, as well as activity packs from previous British Science Weeks.  

Other organisations who have been inspired to create their own educational resources for British Science Week include:

BBC Teach Resources

They have created a web page that hosts their best science, technology, engineering and maths resources for primary and secondary schools all in one place.

STEM Learning

They have created additional resources to support the ‘Growth’ theme, including on plant growth, animal growth and population growth.


Twinkl create educational resources used by teachers, schools and educators across the world. This year, they have developed resources that support another theme of British Science Week 2022- smashing stereotypes! The KS1 and KS2 resources have been designed to help young learners think differently about what is means to be a scientist.  They have also embedded British Science Week learning into their new app which uses Augmented Reality (AR).

STEM at Derby

The University of Derby is hosting STEM subject workshops that will support the British Science Week theme of ‘growth’. They will give students the opportunity to explore facilities, take on STEM challenges and discover career pathways.

Science Discovery Day

University of St Andrews’ annual #ScienceDiscoveryDay will take place online on 19 March. Follow @StAndEngaged as they publish different fun and educational STEM related activities and videos every 15 minutes.

Heritage Science in schools

Our community working group has identified increasing engagement with heritage science at school age as a key outcome for a future skilled and diverse heritage science community. They have been collecting examples of how heritage science is being used in a range of programmes targeted at school-age children. You can read the examples here, some of which include:  

  • The use of 3-D digital documentation of the three Forth Bridges to create a series of teaching packs
  • An activity pack from The National Archives to showcase the heritage science and conservation research happening in their Collection Care department
  • Heritage Science resources created by University of Cambridge Museums to help students develop research skills during A-Levels

Do you know of any other examples? Please let us know at

In the future, we want to map existing resources to the national curriculum and work in partnership with others to fill gaps where heritage science can make a contribution to the curriculum. British Science Week 2022 provides a starting point for our members to help with this. Many schools have been calling for speakers to take part in their events during the week, with the hope of making pupils aware of the variety of careers available in science. 

We would encourage members to think about volunteering to speak at such events in the future. There are many schemes that facilitate collaborations between schools and scientists, including:

A good example of this programme in action can be seen in this lecture recorded in February: STEM lecture for schools – Climate change: putting the dead to work  Jess McCoy (STEM Ambassador and PhD candidate at Northumbria University) gave a talk that explored the link between Palynology and climate change. It was organised by Denbigh School in Milton Keynes.

This initiative is an online, student-led STEM enrichment activity. It connects school students with scientists through energetic real-time text-based chats.

Such schemes provide an excellent opportunity for heritage scientists to make school-age children aware of the role of heritage science in society and the variety of careers available within the sector. This would tie into our strategic objective of creating a future skilled and diverse heritage science community.

You can learn more about British Science Week 2022 here.

British Science Week 2022 – events relevant to Heritage Science

British Science Week 2022 is taking place this year between 11-20 March. It will be a ten-day celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths with many events and activities taking place across the UK.

Below we have created a list of events that we think might be of interest to our members. In particular, we have rounded up events that align to the five societal challenges that were identified by our research working group to inspire and encourage connections between heritage science research and five issues of importance to society. They are Sustainable development; Climate emergency; Improved wellbeing; Equality and inclusivity; and Digital society. Events include:

Natural Prosperity and the Wellbeing Economy

Tuesday 24 May, 6-7 pm

This lecture from Gresham College will take place online and in person. It will envision a more equitable future where wellbeing and nature-based solutions take the place of growth at any cost.

Low and Zero-Carbon Energy Sources for Sustainable Buildings

Thursday 17 March, 12 -1 pm

This online talk will explore the two main pillars for saving energy in buildings – increasing energy efficiency and using low-zero-carbon energy sources.

Climate Change Adaptation and Green Infrastructure: Back to the Future

Monday 14 March, 12:30 – 1:30 pm

This online lecture, given by Dr Tony Harris from the University of South Wales, will explore how Green Infrastructure can deliver huge benefits to mitigate and adapt to climate change, for quality of life and for environmental benefits including natural flood management solutions.

Makeactive: an exploration of how a multimodal virtual maker space could assist non-sighted designer makers.

Tuesday 15 March, 12:30 – 1:30 pm

This online session from The Open University will explore the barriers for non-sighted and sight impaired practitioners to gaining equal access to digital skills. It will detail how the Makeactive-UK project is working to enable non-sighted and sight impaired users to work alongside their sighted peers to enable collaboration in the virtual world.

There are also events happening that are not directly related to the societal challenges but are still relevant and helpful to heritage scientists. These include:

Science Writing Course

Saturday 23 April, 10 am – 4pm

This online workshop will be particularly helpful to heritage science students and ECRs. It will share practical tips to develop a career in science writing.

British Science Festival 2022

Tuesday 13 – Saturday 17 September

The British Science Association and De Montfort University will host the Festival across the city of Leicester. Events will shine a light on cutting-edge science, as well as the more practical impacts research and innovation have on people’s daily lives.

Stonehenge Science at the British Museum

18 March

This family activity is inspired by the ground-breaking research in The World of Stonehenge exhibition and will help curious little minds to have a go at looking, listening, investigating, problem solving and creating – just like a museum scientist.

You can find out more information about British Science Week 2022 here.

Reflection on the NHSF/Icon Heritage Science group student and ECR workshop of March 2021

James E. Churchill is a Funaro scholar of the M.S. Historic Preservation program at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation of  Columbia University and an architectural conservator for Kreilick Conservation, LLC. A founding member of the archaeometallurgical committee at ASM International, he is passionate about widening the body of knowledge for conservation treatments in historic metalwork with interests straddling design, history and materials science.

In this blog post, James reflects on the event we held in March to understand the needs of heritage science students and Early Career Researchers, and how the Forum and Icon HSG might meet those needs.

I am an architectural conservator, currently practicing in and around Philadelphia and the northeast of the United States. Graduating from Columbia University in Historic Preservation, an equivalent to built heritage in the U.K., I had a particular focus on historic metalwork and have recently authored numerous articles on early modern nickel alloys for leading material science journals stateside. As a result, I was encouraged to consider a PhD with a British institution. After countless interactions with potential supervisors in the U.K., however, I became increasingly frustrated with little response and a lack of clarity for those caught between the science and art of heritage PhDs. Pushed between departments that included archaeology, environmental sciences, architecture and materials, I subsequently missed funding deadlines for 2021.

I heard about the NHSF through weeks of research on funding opportunities for British citizens and was interested in attending the workshop that was offered in March. The talks consisted of general information on the organization and more intimate sessions that split attendees up to discuss current issues and ideas for the future of heritage science in the U.K. Given the SEAHA funding is due to end in 2022, I was particularly interested in the funding initiatives, but also a more effective leadership that could liaise with universities to encourage such research to remain or return to the U.K. 

We live in incredibly important times. As government continue to jostle over climate policy, the world struggles with accelerating change that is collapsing animal populations, raising flood plains and desertifying swathes of land each year. Both intangible and tangible heritage is at grave risk. Protection of historic fabric is strongest when both science and art intersect to support vulnerable stakeholders. Only through this, will we reduce demolition and waste, lower our carbon footprint and protect life for all species on this planet. I believe the U.K. could offer a distinct advantage in a nimble post-Brexit world but requires a more robust system of support that centralises opportunities for emerging professionals. The NHSF is best positioned to offer this, and it is my hope that they work on those initiatives I and my fellow cohort suggested.

Heritage science: culture, collaboration, career

Transcript of presentation given by Josep Grau-Bové at joint National Heritage Science Forum (NHSF) and Icon Heritage Science group events to scope the networking and career development needs of heritage science students and Early Career Researchers, March 2021 

That was the title of my presentation. We are here because we are heritage scientists. What does it mean, to be a heritage scientist?

We have the fortune and the misfortune of giving shape to a new field of science. Because heritage science is new, in many ways a 21st century science, and in many other ways, it is old, as old as curiosity.

If you chart the history of the scientific study of heritage, do you know what you will find? You will see that every time a new scientific method is invented, someone has the idea to point it at a work of art. It happened with the microscope, the synchrotron, structural simulation, pollutant monitoring, everything.

Robert Hooke, Micrographia, London, 1665, Scheme 1, showing images of a woven textile.

We are here because we share this fascination. This ancient magnetic attraction. However, while the curiosity of heritage scientists has been here forever, the field is new in other ways.

It has been in the last decade that we have come together, in academic journals, in conferences, in research programmes, in the eyes of government funding, in representative bodies such as the NHSF and ICON HG.  And when we come together, we discover that there are links between our isolated individual curiosities. We share questions, and problems. And it that sense, we are a new science, that is just discovering its questions and its problems.

I like to think a heritage scientist is like a Hobbit. Humble, brave and stubborn, an explorer that always remembers home. Humble because in our field, we always need the expertise of others. Collaboration depends on admitting that we don’t know all the answers. Brave because you need to be crazy to step into the unknown, in an area where we’ll spend most of the time out of your comfort zone. An area where the future job market depends on our collective success. Stubborn because there are no established ways of doing things. We need to make our own way, and stick with it.

“This is it. If I take one more step, I’ll be the farthest away from home I’ve ever been”

And finally, also like a hobbit from the shire, it doesn’t matter how far we go from our initial training, all heritage scientists remember who they are: chemists, conservators, architects, psychologists, engineers, art historians, social scientists – and this identity defines how we work.

“Heritage Scientist” is not a permanent identity. Many are not heritage scientists forever. And that’s another strength of our field. Some of the best heritage scientists I have met, have also made contributions outside of heritage. Most of us have come to heritage after degrees or even PhDs that had nothing to do with it. Some of us will move on to tackle other problems. This diversity of interests is common. It is even necessary. Because how else can we study such a complex array of scientific problems?

The question is, while we are here, how shall we organise ourselves? Solving this riddle has two parts. One is how we organise our ideas. We cannot solve this one today. That will require 10 years of discussion. The other part is how we organise our conversations as a group. This is the one we want to brainstorm today. The scientific ideas will naturally follow.

Networking and support for heritage science students and early career researchers: findings from two scoping sessions held in March 2021

Caroline Peach, National Heritage Science Forum

The Strategic Framework for Heritage Science in the UK is built around an outcomes framework and one of its three high-level goals is “A skilled and diverse heritage science community (workforce and volunteers) that is well placed to respond creatively to future change”.

At NHSF, our Communities working group focuses on delivering against the underpinning outcomes that will help to achieve this goal. It brings people together from across its member organisations to pool their strengths, knowledge and networks to address shared challenges in the sector.

In March 2021 we worked with the Icon Heritage Science group to run two workshops to scope the networking and support needs of heritage science students and early career researchers. For NHSF, these workshops are a step towards the strategic framework outcome of ‘Recognition of heritage science as an attractive career’. They also build on findings of research commissioned in 2017 to understand some of the opportunities and constraints associated with a career in heritage science (which highlighted the need for networks to strengthen the identity of heritage science, and a platform to enable young professionals to interact, share challenges, and develop skills).

We wanted to ask heritage science students and early career researchers about the support they need to pursue a career in heritage science and so our two online workshops included introductions to the work of NHSF and the Icon Heritage Science group, a reflection on heritage science as a culture and a career (see our next blog post for more on this) but for the most part, the sessions focussed on facilitated discussion groups asking:

– What are the needs of heritage science students and ECRs?

– How can NHSF/Icon Heritage Science group or other bodies help to address these needs?

– What are the next steps for the heritage science community?

Forty-eight people took part in the two sessions and contributed thoughtfully, enthusiastically and constructively to a wide-ranging conversation about what is needed and how it might be provided.

What did people identify as needs?

The post-it record of the breakout groups is shared below, and overall the main needs can be summarised as:

  • Knowledge of who’s doing what and where (a directory?) – to help develop a picture of the broad heritage science landscape, support making research connections and building networks.
  • Mentorship and help understanding career pathways and opportunities.
  • The opportunity to present projects and research and hear about work by others.
  • Training opportunities focused on specific (technical) topics.
  • Case studies of how people have entered the field and their career pathways.
  • A source of information on job posting and training opportunities.

Both NHSF and the Icon Heritage Science group are now working out how we can best provide support.

From NHSF’s perspective, we have some things in place already that address some of the needs, for example:

Profiles of heritage scientists in training and their experience of entry into the field.

Five minutes with… (a series of blog posts asking heritage scientists about their jobs)

Training opportunities in heritage science.

Though we fully recognise that these pages need to be updated – if anyone is willing to volunteer to help us do this, please get in touch!

Jobs, conferences and training opportunities are shared via Twitter (@HertSci_UK) and in our monthly e-newsletter which you can sign up to here:

Next, we’ll work with the people who have signed up to stay in touch on this topic and help us address the identified needs. High on the list will be agreeing which platform will work best to support the information-sharing and networking.

Thank you to everyone who took part in the scoping sessions. If you’d like to join our email group on this topic please contact Caroline Peach

Increasing engagement with heritage science at school age

Heritage Science is the use of science and technology to understand and care for cultural heritage, and support engagement or interaction with it. As we’ve shown in the blog posts over British Science Week 2021 heritage science can take many different forms such as using powerful microscopes, 3D laser-scanning, x-rays and more.

We’ve been looking at examples of how these wonderful techniques and technologies can be used in learning programmes aimed at school-age children and are starting to share some of the examples we’ve found on our website here.

Our final blog for this year’s British Science Week highlights these resources in the hope that it will inspire you to let us know of other examples that you know about. Over time we want to create a resource that shows how heritage science can support many different parts of the curriculum – and share our enthusiasm for the #HeritageScience with teachers and pupils.

Heritage Science at The National Archives Activity Pack

The National Archives has created a family activity pack for home and in the classroom to showcase the heritage science and conservation research happening in their Collection Care Department.

The activity pack was developed by the Collection Care and Education teams to celebrate British Science Week 2021. The intention of the pack is to act as a gateway to showcase heritage science and conservation research happening behind the scenes at The National Archives in an accessible way. In the pack you can find two activities: ‘How to Make Berry Ink’, where children can learn how to make blueberry ink and ‘How to Make Invisible Ink’, where children can learn how to send secret messages using lemon juice. It is hosted on their family activities webpages and is designed for home and the classroom.

Outdoor archaeological learning

Forestry and Land Scotland has created an Outdoor Archaeological Learning portal to encourage young people to be inspired by Scotland’s rich cultural heritage and historic environment. It includes a collection of resources, articles, and activities to encourage place-based learning. They are designed to be used by teachers, youth group leaders and archaeological educators. Through asking young people to record, discuss and interpret an archaeological site, the resources help them develop critical thinking skills, creativity, confidence, and teamwork skills. Resources are available on various archaeological topics including: Dendrochronology; Recumbent stone circles; The Picts; The First Foresters; Dun Deardail; and Into the Wildwoods. Access the resources here.

Go Forth and Discover! Digital game

A downloadable game- based learning activity has been developed from 3D digital documentation of the historic Forth Bridges to educate school children about their construction. The activity was created to match the social studies curriculum taught in Scottish schools and was designed by the Centre for Digital Documentation and Visualisation LLP (a partnership between Historic Environment Scotland and The Glasgow School of Art). You can access the freely available game here.

Do you know of any other examples of heritage science being incorporated into learning programmes for children of school age? Please add them to our online noticeboard here.

We will also continue to add new case studies to our website. Look out for them here.

Heritage Science at The National Archives – Activity Pack

Our next blog for British Science Week 2021 is brought to you by The National Archives which has created a family pack for use at home and in the classroom to showcase the heritage science and conservation research happening in their Collection Care Department.

This activity pack was developed by the Collection Care and Education teams to celebrate British Science Week 2021. The intention of the pack is to act as a gateway to showcase heritage science and conservation research happening behind the scenes at The National Archives in an accessible way. It is hosted on The National Archives’ family activities webpages and is designed for home and the classroom.

In the packs you can find two activities: ‘How to Make Berry Ink’, where children can learn how to make blueberry ink and ‘How to Make Invisible Ink’, where children can learn how to send secret messages using lemon juice.  The activities include recipes, instructional videos, and accessible PDF instruction posters.

The resources also highlight documents found in The National Archives’ collection that link to the packs to show how scientific analysis can help to understand the materials that the documents are made from and increase the artefactual value of the collection. The linked documents include the spectroscopic analysis of a Tudor map, to better understand the painting techniques, use of colour and materials deployed by Tudor mapmakers; analysis of wool sample books where scientists are analysing the dyes in the wool samples contained in the books to learn more about historic dying practices (with the future hope of creating a reference database using the recipes included in the books and accompanying spectral information); and the ‘orange juice letters’, letters written by the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 conspirators who used orange juice as invisible ink. Here, we have explained how multispectral imaging can help increase the readability of these documents.

Analysis of ‘The orange juice letters’.
Image copyright: The National Archives
Image showing analysis of document
Analysis of wool sample books.
Image copyright: The National Archives

For many children learning about historic documents this will be their first introduction to scientific research in an archive. The National Archives hopes that through these fun activities, and the accessible blogs that accompany them, children and their families will learn about a different area of study within archives and be inspired to learn more about heritage science.

Further information:

Smoke and mirrors: Revealing the Gunpowder Plot through heritage science – discover how scientific imaging was used to improve the readability of letters written in orange juice and see why these ‘inks’ are visible under some lights, but not under others.

Remote access to Scanning Electron Microscopy at the Natural History Museum

The expansion of remote access to microscopy equipment at the Natural History Museum is the subject of this post from Professor Aviva Burnstock of the Courtauld Institute of Art. The British Science Week theme of #innovation is evident in the resilience and enthusiasm of staff and students from both organisations.

The Courtauld has for decades maintained a fruitful collaboration with the Natural History Museum (NHM) for research on painting materials and techniques and evaluating methods for the conservation of paintings. We have relied on regular access to scanning electron microscope (SEM) imaging and elemental analysis for the examination of paint layers and high-resolution imaging and characterisation of inorganic pigments that cannot be identified using other methods. Lockdown presented major challenges for access to these vital resources, equipment and expertise. Alex Ball and Innes Clatworthy from the Natural History Museum have worked tirelessly to provide our staff and students remote access for electron microscopy including training and support. Now we can, following current Covid safety regulations, deliver our samples to the NHM and book a remote session on the equipment, undertaken through our lap-tops from the comfort of our homes. Support for this process has inspired the current generation of students, many of whom come from fine arts and humanities backgrounds to do the high-level scientific work that is essential for the conservation of paintings even in these most difficult times.

With the initial guidance (and patience) of Innes, the remote control of the SEM machine felt very similar to using the system in person at the NHM. The screen resolution was clear, the connection was good and it was easy to save and access files, I just need to remember how to use all the buttons!”  Megan Levet  graduate student in Conservation, Courtauld Institute of Art

It was really amazing and slightly surreal to be able to use the equipment from my house. Innes was super helpful and made the process seem easy and straightforward. I look forward to making the most of this facility in the near future”, India Ferguson graduate student in Conservation, Courtauld Institute of Art. 

I didn’t expect to be able to begin using SEM EDX at this time when so much is restricted. I was unsure how the analysis would work remotely. With the support of Innes at the NHM accessing the software was straightforward; once the sample was in the chamber it was almost as good as being there. Beautiful images of a painting cross section were streamed to my laptop and analysis could be performed simply by pointing and clicking on a chosen area. I look forward to using this powerful tool to support my work in the near future!” Jack Chauncy, graduate student in Conservation, Courtauld Institute of Art

A picture of remote SEM access
Accessing the Natural History Museum’s SEM remotely
(Image copyright Courtauld Institute of Art)

Written by Aviva Burnstock, Professor of Conservation at the Courtauld Institute of Art