Zoom In – A closer look at science at the British Museum

As part of British Science Week 2017 the National Heritage Science Forum is again featuring blog posts from heritage scientists from across its member organisations. This year’s theme is ‘sharing heritage science’ and the blogs over the rest of the week will give an insight into the many different forms that heritage science can take, as well as some of the different ways of getting involved.

We start, today, with Peter Mc Elhinney’s summary of British Science Week events that will take place at the British Museum, including this afternoon’s Facebook Live event…

This week, the British Museum’s scientists come out from behind the scenes for a free event that offers visitors the chance to take a look at heritage science in the Museum. Visitors will get the chance to learn about the techniques that are used to monitor and care for the Museum’s collections, and see the latest behind-the-scenes technology in action.

  • Tune in NOW(!) for a Facebook Live event, to see some of the less portable analytical equipment demonstrated in action from within the World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre. The session will offer a rare opportunity to gain a sense of the research capabilities of this new facility. The Museum’s Facebook followers can comment and ask questions during the live session, or view the recording later and leave comments or questions on the Museum’s Facebook page thereafter.
    To watch the broadcast or subscribe to the Museum’s exciting future live events, visit the British Museum’s Facebook page on your desktop, laptop, tablet or phone.
  • On Saturday 18th March, drop by the British Museum for ‘Zoom-In’, a day of hands-on sessions in the Great Court (10 am to 4 pm). Visitors will be able to handle the raw materials used to make museum objects. For more information, please visit the British Museum events page.

The events are aimed at younger, budding heritage scientists, but visitors of all ages and interests will enjoy meeting with the museum’s industry leading scientists and conservators, asking questions and learning about the fascinating research going on within the British Museum.

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Scientist Dan O’Flynn at work in the X-Radiography Suite. Dan will be demonstrating X-radiography and CT-scanning as part of the Facebook live event.
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Scientist Harriet White at work on the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) – she will be doing an SEM demonstration during today’s Facebook live event.


Filling the Gaps #10 Increasing Access to Tools and Knowledge

The tenth and last part of our Filling the Gaps survey is now up!

Since September this year, we have been collecting information about current or recent research, on topics highlighted by the National Heritage Science Strategy as gaps in knowledge and practice.

The 10th survey focuses on increasing access to tools and knowledge amongst and beyond the heritage science community.

To achieve this, the Strategy’s evidence report highlighted four priority goals:

  • improved awareness of existing techniques
  • better access to analytical facilities, including portable equipment
  • increased range of facilities for the analysis of organic materials
  • the need for a directory of services available, type, costs and funding opportunities

Want to help us ‘fill in the gaps’? You can add your knowledge of research or initiatives addressing the above via our survey form. The projects in question can be ongoing or completed, published or unpublished, the only criteria is that they started in or after 2009. Feel free to provide as much or as little information as you want – but the more you can contribute, the better a resource we can create.

The other topics in the survey series are still open:

  1. Understanding decay mechanisms and rates of decay of movable items
  2. Understanding decay mechanisms and rates of decay of built historic environment
  3. Understanding decay mechanisms and rates of decay of archaeology
  4. Understanding the material behaviour of modern materials (movable items)
  5. Understanding the material behaviour of modern materials (built historic environment)
  6. Creating appropriate environments
  7. Adapting to climate change
  8. Improving practice in the assessment and monitoring of state
  9. Improving practice: past present and future conservation treatments

Many thanks for your contributions so far – please share this link widely so we may create a useful resource!

National Heritage Science Forum

Filling the Gaps #9 Past, Present and Future Conservation Treatments

The ninth Filling the Gaps survey is now online, investigating existing reviews of current conservation practices for better long-term planning and research into potential future techniques.

The National Heritage Science Strategy evidence report highlighted a need for additional research in the following areas:

  1. Revisiting current treatment options and operational procedures to:
    • assess the cost/benefit of existing treatment methods; ineffective treatments can lead to higher conservation and collection management costs in the future
    • ascertain whether anecdotal reporting of the deterioration of conserved objects are justified (e.g. recent questions about the long-term stability of PEG treated wood)
    • ensure that current treatments do not unintentionally reduce information retrieval; the information that can be recovered from heritage assets now is greater than when some treatments were devised (such as DNA from natural history collections, organic residues from ceramics)
    • consider the impact of standard procedures – for example, dusting and cleaning objects on display, or washing of archaeological finds
    • evaluate whether current techniques will still be appropriate in a changing climate.
  2. Further development of the following:
    • nanotechnology (for example, nanodeposition of calcium hydroxide for consolidation of wall paintings)
    • biotechnology (further testing of microbial cleaning and consolidation of stone)
    • improved methods of digitisation of paper and audio-visual material
    • further development of digital x-radiography
    • research into new coatings, particularly for outdoor metals (such as superhydrophobic materials)
    • laser cleaning (and its use on a larger range of materials)
    • treatments for modern materials
    • re-scaling of existing treatments, to be available at larger (i.e. laser cleaning) or smaller or more portable (i.e. mass de-acidification) scales
  3. Research into new materials for use for conservation purposes, including:
    • lightweight strong materials, i.e. high tensile strength thread for displaying beadwork
    • new absorbent materials to control pollution and moisture
    • inert materials that can be used in treatment to improve the retention of shape (for example in all stages of the conservation of waterlogged archaeological leather)

If you know of any research, completed or underway, published or unpublished, touching on the above topics, please let us know by filling in our online form. Our only requirement is that the research started in or after 2009. No need to fill in all the fields – but the more information you can provide, the more useful a resource we can create for the heritage science community.

Many thanks for your contribution – please don’t hesitate to share this link!

National Heritage Science Forum

Filling the Gaps #8 Improving practice in the assessment and monitoring of state

The eighth Filling the Gaps survey focuses on improving practice in the assessment and monitoring of the condition of historic and archaeological material.

The National Heritage Strategy evidence report identified the following gaps in research:

  1. Further development of existing, new and increasingly portable methods, including:
    • increasing the range of NDT (non-destructive testing) methods of organic analysis, for example characterisation of organic dyes and binders
    • further development of NDT systems to assess condition (such as analysis of state of deterioration of iron gall inks)
    • new NDT methods to look at changes in colour of pigments and dyes
    • increasing the use of laser scanning for conservation reporting (i.e. 2D/3D surface mapping for condition analysis)
    • using GIS and digital images to map and monitor biofilm development on buildings
    • transfer of techniques used in collections assessment to assess the preservation of archaeological remains
    • improving condition assessment of organic component of archaeological bones
    • further development of acoustic characterisation of deterioration state of in situ marine archaeological wood
    • further development of volatile organic compound detection equipment
  2. The development of new tools, such as:
    • cumulative light exposure dosimeters with read outs
    • RH monitors/paper which responds when critical levels are breached (for use in storage boxes for archaeological iron for example)
    • simple pollution monitors, including for volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
    • continued development of methods for monitoring dust
    • improved range of NDT methods for assessing moisture and moisture movements in walls
    • non-intrusive assessment of concrete and reinforcement corrosion
    • protocols for use and data collection
    • standardisation of tools and better provision of advice
    • development of methods of object-based monitoring systems for archaeological sites, i.e. rods with iron coupons that can be buried then removed at intervals to assess redox levels
    • in situ monitoring of degradation products such as carbon dioxide and methane as guide to decay rates of organic archaeological deposits
    • improved monitoring techniques for maritime sites.

As before, we are seeking contributors to add any information possible on research – published or unpublished, completed or ongoing – that has been carried out since 2009 addressing these topics.

If you think you can help, please complete our survey form, and don’t hesitate to share the link: the more information you can provide, the more useful a resource we can create!

Many thanks

National Heritage Science Forum

Filling the Gaps #7 Adapting to a changing climate

The seventh survey in the Filling the Gaps series looks at research needed to better adapt to a changing climate when caring for collections, archaeological remains and the built environment.

The National Heritage Strategy evidence report called for:

  1. Modelling the impact of predicted change on collections
  2. Adaptation to climate change in caring for the built historic environment, through research into:
    • Greater incidence and intensity of rainfall events on permeable structures
    • The impact of wind-driven rain
    • The impact of increased storminess on salt spray
    • The removal of water on individual buildings due to an increase in extreme rainwater events (i.e. capacity of rain water goods, drainage and roofs to cope with predicted storminess)
    • The impact of ground heave and shrinkage on traditional structures
    • The impact of flooding and drying out on traditional materials and construction methods
    • An improved understanding of thermal transmittance (U-values) of historic materials and constructions
    • Better methods to understand and quantify moisture movements within permeable structures (including internal environment as well as that within walls, floors, etc.)
    • Enhanced knowledge of how historic buildings actually behave and were originally intended to behave, including resilience to climatic fluctuations
    • Further calculations of the embodied energy of historic and traditional buildings
  3. Research allowing a better understanding, adaptation and mitigation against the following issues affecting archaeological remains:
    • Greater seasonability in rainfall or increased drought conditions on wetland sites
    • Increased salinity from coastal innundation
    • Increased temperature around coastal waters which influences the spread of woodborers on in situ maritime timbers.

If you know of any research, published or unpublished, that has been carried out in these areas since 2009, please help us ‘fill in the gaps’ by adding it to our survey form. Any information is welcome – you don’t need to complete all the fields, but the more information you can provide, the more useful a resource we can compile.

Many thanks for your contribution to this project – please share this link amongst your colleagues!

National Heritage Science Forum


Filling the gaps #6 Creating appropriate environments

The sixth area of research need identified by the National Heritage Science Strategy evidence report is ‘Creating appropriate environments’.

Our associated survey seeks to collect information about research that has been carried out, since 2009 in two main areas:

  1. The ways in which environmental conditions can be controlled to reduce decay rates, by carrying out research into:
  • How buildings, and historic buildings in particular, perform
  • The use of natural ventilation, and other methods of passive environmental control
  • The use of microenvironments to reduce deterioration.

2. A better understanding of the environmental parameters that are critical to the survival of waterlogged archaeological remains, improving the managed of these sites by research to:

  • assess the level of moisture content that is sufficient to retard degradation
  • improve the characterisation of the chemical and biological composition of burial environments (both urban and rural)
  • enhance characterisation of burial environments of maritime sites which are currently poorly understood.

Please help us to ‘fill the gaps’ by adding your knowledge of research carried out since 2009, published or unpublished, that addresses these issues to our survey form.

You don’t need to complete all the fields on the form, but the more information you are able to provide, the more useful a resource we’ll be able to make available – to people using heritage science research, to researchers identifying new projects, and to funders supporting heritage science research.

Thank you for your contributions

National Heritage Science Forum

Filling the Gaps in heritage science research #5 Understanding modern materials behaviour (built historic environment)

Filling the Gaps #5 looks at research needed to understand modern materials behaviour as applied to the built historic environment.

The areas that the National Heritage Science Strategy identifies as needing further work are:

  • understanding mechanisms and rates of concrete decay
  • reducing/slowing concrete decay
  • improving in situ treatment of corrosion of concrete reinforcement
  • reviewing the range and stability of aluminium and aluminium alloys used in modern buildings (i.e. windows)
  • identifying treatment options for plated metals
  • assessing long-term stability of polymers and other materials used in cladding systems

As before, we’re looking to gather information on research that has been carried out in these areas, since 2009,  through our survey form.

The survey asks for information about the research including the title of the project, who carried it out, where it was carried out, whether it is published etc. You don’t need to fill out all the fields, but the more information you are able to provide, the more complete a resource we’ll be able to provide to the heritage science community.

Many thanks for your contribution to this work

National Heritage Science Forum