Alison Trachet: Guest post on the SEAHA conference, 2017

The National Heritage Science Forum (NHSF) provided bursaries to enable three Early Career Researchers to attend the 3rd International Conference on Science and Engineering in Arts, Heritage and Archaeology. Here Alison Trachet shares her experience of the conference.

Last week I traded the daily showers and cloudy skies of north central Florida for the warm, sunny shores of the south English coast to attend the 3rd International SEAHA Conference held in Brighton. SEAHA, which stands for Science and Engineering in Arts Heritage and Archaeology, is a revolutionary academic program training the next generation of heritage scientists. The very name “heritage science” implies collaboration between conservators, historians, and scientists, and thus the emphasis of this conference was on “interdisciplinarity”.

The two-day event began with several warm welcomes and a charge from SEAHA doctoral student Keats Webb to consider what you wanted from the conference and revisit this question after its end. I simply wanted to meet experts and emerging researchers as well as learn current research trends (and possibly hear about post-doctoral research opportunities), yet I experienced so much more. The first keynote speaker, Dr. Robert van Langh, addressed the economic impact of cultural heritage, something I had never considered. Katy Lithgow at The National Trust queried if heritage science is outgrowing interdisciplinary research and becoming its own field. Other fascinating research topics included occupational health and safety issues from pesticides, mechanical testing and characterization of tapestries and ancient Roman glass, and analyzing the smell of potpourri. I particularly enjoyed the budget air velocity measurer developed by Dr. Josep Grau-Bove: a thin strip of paper calibrated to register certain air velocities.

We ended the first day with a private tour of the Royal Pavilion, King George IV’s ornate seaside home.

Image of Royal Pavilion, Brighton
The Royal Pavilion, a famous Brighton landmark and unofficial mascot of the conference.

Despite being sold by the royal family, used as a hospital in World War I, set afire, and crushed by a heavy stone, the Pavilion can still be visited by the public thanks to heroic restoration efforts from a diverse team, making the building a perfect mascot for the conference. After our tour, I wandered about the Brighton museum with a glass of wine, nibbled on delicious appetisers, and chatted with new acquaintances about our professional backgrounds and interest in heritage science. We had the opportunity to individually talk to research presenters during these social events as well as during coffee breaks, the poster session, and at dinner with new colleagues. 

Image of SEAHA conference poster session
Curious conference goers enjoying the poster session

The SEAHA conference was the perfect place for me to catch up on relevant research, network with experts from a wide variety of fields including conservators, scientists, and industry members, and meet the next generation of heritage scientists. I look forward to next year’s conference, where perhaps I can share my own research struggles and results.

Image of seagull
One attendee was very keen on discussing ginger biscuits during a coffee break

 


The 3rd International SEAHA Conference was held at the University of Brighton, UK from 19-20 June 2017. The Book of Abstracts is available at: http://www.seaha-cdt.ac.uk/activities/events/seaha17/

Spotlight on SEAHA…Spotlight on Plastics

May’s blog posts are a ‘spotlight on SEAHA’ in preparation for the upcoming 2nd International SEAHA Conference in June. The posts will highlight SEAHA student research with the first post ‘Spotlight on Plastics’ from Anna Pokorska, Postgraduate Research Student, Institute for Sustainable Heritage, UCL.

Spotlight on Plastics

By Anna Pokorska, Postgraduate Research Student, Institute for Sustainable Heritage, UCL

Plastic materials have quickly become ubiquitous in our everyday lives, from ordinary use objects to high value works of art and design. They also have a contradictory reputation – on one hand plastics are thought of as durable due to the fact that they do not biodegrade. However, they are also often used as temporary and cheap substitutes for more valuable materials and not expected to last as long. In fact, the early plastics have intrinsic flaws which contribute to their degradation due to the largely experimental character of their production. Nevertheless, plastic objects of both natures can now be found in heritage collections. Artists and designers have also happily experimented with the use of the materials creating innovative artworks but also, at the same time, considerable challenges to conservators. Another critical issue is the sheer amount of different plastics and their combinations with various additives now available. However, in recent decades there has been a lot of research carried out in the field of conservation of these materials. Contributing to that movement is a project based at the Institute for Sustainable Heritage (ISH) at UCL which will investigate the stability of plastics to visible light as encountered in a museum or gallery environment.

V&A 20th century gallery display of plastics
Part of the V&A’s 20th century gallery displaying a variety of plastic artefacts

 

It is common knowledge that UV radiation is harmful to most materials and is therefore filtered out in heritage institutions. However, the sensitivity of various types of plastic formulations to visible light is not that well understood and consequently museum lighting guidelines for them remain somewhat vague and under-researched. Through collaboration with the Victoria and Albert Museum and Philips, the most up-to-date knowledge of plastic degradation and preservation will be brought together with cutting-edge lighting technology research. The main goal of this project will be to identify the long-term effect of visible light on the physical appearance and chemical structure of modern materials. Aspects of deterioration such as discolouration and crazing will be related to changes in the molecular structure of the materials thus increasing our understanding of the processes and visual impact of light-induced degradation.

Infrared spectroscopic analysis of degraded plastic sample
Carrying out infrared spectroscopic analysis of a degraded plastic sample at the Institute for Sustainable Heritage

 

A wide range of plastic types which will be tested will help identify those that may be sensitive to visible light exposure and dispel some of the contrasting results found in research so far. Following from that the project will focus more closely on the individual contribution of different parts of the visible light spectrum towards plastic decay. This will not only further expand our knowledge of light degradation but may also present an opportunity to reduce some of that damaging potential and preserve plastic artefacts for longer. The results from this project will also contribute towards improving lighting guidelines for display of plastic objects in collections by providing more specific recommendations for particular formulations as well as help define a more robust methodology for future studies.

SEAHA,  the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Science and Engineering in Arts Heritage and Archaeology, is a unique initiative that brings together academic, heritage and industry partners over an 8 year period (2014-2022) to meet challenges set by the heritage sector, industry and government.

SEAHA will hold its second international conference in Oxford on 20th-21st June. Alongside keynote speakers Sir Philip Campbell (Editor-in-Chief, Nature), Dr Ewan Hyslop (Head of Technical Research and Science, Historic Environment Scotland) and Dr Philippe Walter (Head of Laboratory of Molecular and Structural Archaeology, Sorbonne Universites, CNRS, UPMC), many of the SEAHA students will be presenting their work.

To find out more about the conference, visit www.seaha-cdt.ac.uk/seaha-conference-2016/