It’s British Science Week!

It’s that time of the year again! To celebrate British Science Week 2018 (9-18 March), we’ll once more be running a series of blog posts from heritage scientists across NHSF member organisations.

Over the next 10 days, activities and public events around the theme of Science & Technology will be running throughout the country, many of them free – you can find a full list here.

We have an exciting series of posts planned, to make sure that Heritage Science is represented in the festival. What is heritage science? The application of science and technology to cultural heritage, to improve our understanding and enjoyment of it. Keep an eye on this blog to find out about colours and light in Indian paintings, laser scanning the Earth, and plenty more – follow us on Facebook or Twitter to get notified of new posts.


Weston cons studio - new book binding
New book binding at Weston conservation studio. © National Trust


Aesthetics within Heritage: Virginia Rush’s experience at the 3rd International SEAHA Conference

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. In our last blog post in this series, Virginia Rush, a doctoral student in Heritage Studies, reflects on her first encounter with heritage science at the conference.

As I was researching some new literature for my study (I am doing my PhD on Aesthetics in Heritage), I came across the SEAHA webpage and I was very pleased to find its new initiative: as a doctoral student in Heritage Studies, much of the discussion is derived from cultural studies, with no specific methods and epistemology regarding its object of study. Whereas Heritage Science, while focusing on cultural heritage, defines its ontology through the conservation practices of cultural heritage with the aim of enabling its access.

After reading about Heritage Science, I was ready to hear more: I contacted the organisers of the 3rd International SEAHA Conference and I was awarded a bursary to attend.

Virginia Rush IMG_7495

On the day of the conference, I was greeted and impeccably assisted by Mrs Pocobelli, Mrs Keats Webb and Mrs Caroline Peach from the NHSF. Hearing Dr Robert van Langh and the work done on the Rijksmuseum was a very inspiring introduction which set the mood for the day’s conference. I later attended the AICON 3D Systems/Hexagon UK breakout session on white light 3D scanning, having the opportunity to work with the projection systems and to receive specific advice on our scanning needs. Mrs Katy Lithgow’s talk was also remarkably enlightening regarding the National Trust vision and efforts. The Evening Reception, held at the Brighton Museum after a guided tour through the Pavilion, was an excellent closure to a first day full of sessions, visits and networking.

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Invited speaker Katy Lithgow (National Trust) talks about the benefits of interdisciplinary research

On the second day, the scheduled Breakout sessions proved to be relevant and innovative: I attended the Seebibyte presentation, which I found especially useful for managing Big Data and image analysis. Afterwards, Prof. May Cassar read a very inspiring presentation discussing the development of Heritage as an industry and as a production sector, engaging all the participants in a much-needed discussion regarding the values and positions of various heritage stakeholders. A last session on conservation methods and material analysis was seamlessly followed vby the closing ceremonies and remarks, which proved that through this and other endeavours, Heritage Science is not only possible but already a reality.

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Katharina Deering, from the Institute and Outpatient Clinic for Occupational, Social and Environmental Medicine (Munich) discusses hazardous substances in museum collections

Having attended the conference helped me to learn about the state of the art in the UK, and also to understand major differences and positions within heritage conservation, as I went on to redefine my study and include a chapter on the need of a common theorisation regarding Heritage Studies and Heritage Sciences.

The 3rd International SEAHA Conference was held at the University of Brighton, UK from 19-20 June 2017. The Book of Abstracts can be found at:
SEAHA have just released photos of the conference; these can be viewed on their Flickr page.

Virginia Rush can be contacted at

Charlotte Marriott talks about 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. In this post Charlotte Marriott, a conservator based in London, relates her experience of the conference. She is currently the Collections Care Officer at the Royal Air Force Museum, and is preparing objects for three new exhibitions celebrating 100 years of the RAF.

I was able to attend the 2017 SEAHA conference at the University of Brighton, thanks to an Early Career Researcher grant sponsored by the National Heritage Science Forum.

My research into the conservation of books & works of art on paper has involved multi-spectral imaging and I’m keen to continue exploring how science can work alongside practical conservation. Attending events such as the SEAHA conference help me to keep up to date with developments in heritage science, especially as I’m now working with a greater variety of materials. Having recently been appointed a conservator at the Royal Air Force Museum, attending this conference I found out about research that may help solve issues pertinent within this collection. For instance, it was great to discuss with Hayley Simon her research into iron corrosion and with Rose King her work with plastic degradation.

All the presenters of posters, flash presentations and talks were engaging and provided a fascinating insight into how science is being used to approach issues in conservation, architecture, engineering and the heritage sector from China to Poland, Glasgow to London. The key speakers; Robert van Langh, Katy Lithgow and May Cassar focused on the interdisciplinary nature of heritage science and considered the nuances of this relationship. For instance, should heritage science be considered a discipline of its own, or a holistic approach?

After a busy first day of discussions and presentations, it was off for a tour of the Royal Pavilion. Having never visited before, I was completely stunned by its opulence! Our tour guide Mary provided a great introduction to its history, thoughtfully concentrating on the recent restoration work in the Pavilion. A drinks reception at the Brighton Museum gave us all a chance to chat about the day’s session and explore more of the art collection in Brighton.

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Tour of the Brighton Royal Pavilion, ahead of a reception at the Brighton Museum. Image c/o Charlotte Marriott.
The second day of the conference began with a number of break-out sessions, which included tours of the Royal Pavilion conservation studio and of the SEAHA Mobile Heritage Lab. Delegates were also able to see some of the research methods carried out live, such as white-light scanning and infrared thermography.

I would like to express my thanks to the NHSF for the opportunity to attend the SEAHA conference – I have come away with lots of new ideas for my own research and I hope further collaboration between the RAFM museum and heritage science research can be established by welcoming the SEAHA mobile lab to the RAF museum soon!

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Hayley Simon is researching marine archaeological iron corrosion, by analysing cannon balls from the Mary Rose. Image c/o Hayley Simon.

The 3rd International SEAHA Conference was held at the University of Brighton, UK from 19-20 June 2017. The Book of Abstracts can be found at:

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:

Novel retrofit technology, incorporating robots, for assessing the impact of sprayable insulation materials on historic buildings (Spotlight on SEAHA)

This fourth post in our ‘Spotlight on SEAHA’ series comes from Dzhordzhio Naldzhiev. Dzhordzhio’s work seeks to establish the impact of polyurethane foams and other forms of sprayable insulation on the environmental and energy performance of retrofitted historic houses.

My project aims to explore the impact of various polyurethane foams (and other sprayable insulation materials on the environmental and energy performance of retrofitted historic houses. The industry partner for this research, Q-Bot Ltd, uses high tech robots to upgrade historic dwellings with insulation materials, itself an example of heritage science in practice. Although the project will use a variety of methods to evaluate the holistic performance of these retrofitted dwellings, this blog will focus on the analytical method of detecting volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that originate from the spray foam materials.

When spray foam insulation is applied to a surface, emissions are released into the air, in the form of either vapours or aerosols. In order to provide knowledge on what these emissions are and in what quantity they are produced, we will be using a method called Automatic Thermal Desorption Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (ATD-GC-MS).

There are two ways of explaining this process: my way, and the analytical chemist’s way. I shall begin with my way. Place the palms of your hands together and look. What you are holding is a small galaxy of air. Imagine that instead of molecules of oxygen, nitrogen, and ozone, you are holding stars, planets, and other celestial bodies (such as Pluto, Mars, or the North Star). Now, imagine that you use a black hole to collect that small galaxy.

At the end of the black hole there is a long tunnel, and at the end of this all these celestial bodies are coming out one by one. Yet even in a line, it’s very hard to work out what these are. So in order to find this out, we have to blow them up – much how the Death Star destroys Alderaan.

The final step is to look at the debris of each exploded celestial body and  determine which one it was – Pluto, Mars, or the North Star. We do this by comparing the debris of thousands of individually destroyed planets and stars. This process allows us to determine what our small galaxy was made from.

The analytical chemist explains the process in a more technical manner. Using air pumps and thermal desorption tubes, we will collect VOCs emitted from a sample of spray foam insulation, placed in a glass reactor. We will then run the samples through a gas chromatograph to split the different molecules. The next step is to bombard the molecules with positive ions with a mass spectrometer. The final part of the process is to match the mass spectra of the detected molecules to the NIST library dataset and distinguish the different VOCs. This process allows us to determine the emissions that are off-gassed by the spray foam into the air.

The outcome of this first phase of the experiment is the development of a method that could directly benefit all professionals involved in the built environment sector. Chemists, building physics engineers, and heritage professionals will be keen to learn about the emission rates of building materials so they can further develop retrofit and ventilation strategies.

The overall project will be exciting for everyone who is interested in retrofitting a dwelling, thus lowering their energy bills and reducing their impact on climate change, as it could provide valuable insight into how upgrading properties with spray foam insulation changes the indoor environment.

Find out more:
Follow me on Twitter @Dzhordzhio
Research Gate:

I will be presenting a poster presentation at the SEAHA Conference on 20th June 2017. Meet me there, and I will tell you more about how robots, historic buildings, and analytical chemistry are linked more closely than you might think.

You are also very welcome to join the SEAHA Conference panel discussion on Designing for Research Impact, 20th June 09.30-10.30. It is free to join, with a very exciting panel, including respected heritage professionals and media representatives. Register here:

The 3rd International Conference on Science and Engineering in Arts, Heritage and Archaeology (SEAHA) will take place on 19-20 June 2017 at the University of Brighton. Click here to view the programme of themed sessions and flash presentations, and here to register.

Improving the evaluation of conservation treatments for deteriorating sandstone in built heritage (Spotlight on SEAHA)

Our third ‘Spotlight on SEAHA’ guest post comes from Richard Grove who outlines his research into finding out whether sandstone treatments are providing the protection that was intended.

This research sets out to create practical guidance for assessing the effectiveness of historic stonework treatments. Many sandstone structures, artefacts, and archaeological sites have been treated with some sort of consolidating coating where the surface or structure has been eroded by time, weather or the action of humans or animals. As yet, there is no standard procedure for assessment, meaning there is no way of telling if the treatments currently used are helping or damaging the thing they are meant to protect.

The guidance resulting from this project can be adopted by both academic and commercial conservators, as it will be applicable to a wide range of treatments across the world, and not just a single type. It will change the way all who work on sandstone heritage understand how the treatments they use interact with the stone, by using heritage science to answer complex questions on historic materials.

Image of Oxford's Rock Breakdown Laboratory
Part of Oxford’s Rock Breakdown Laboratory where samples will be treated (image (c) Richard Grove)

The project will combine a range of laboratory based tests combined with simulated and real world case studies. There will be samples taken of sandstone types commonly used in conservation works, and found on historic buildings around the world. Samples will be weathered in our laboratory, to emulate the advanced decay of some of the most iconic sites globally. These samples will then be treated with a range of commercially available solutions; after which they will be subjected to some further accelerated weathering.

Image of stone samples undergoing internal testing
Stone samples undergoing internal testing (image (c) Richard Grove)

The samples will be subject to a range of tests throughout this process, from their ability to absorb and let out moisture (see image of the Karsten Tube Experiment below), to their strength under a range of forces such as compression and twisting. These tests will provide us with a range of measurements from which we can assess the performance of all available treatments in a range of situations, and help us design a model for testing on site without the need to take samples from the vulnerable sites themselves.

Image of stone sample undergoing Karsten Tube testing
Karsten Tube Testing, measuring the moisture uptake of the stone samples (image (c) Richard Grove)

This research is intended to benefit anyone who has an involvement in the maintenance and repair of sandstone in a range of settings, from archaeological sites such as Palaeolithic cave sites in the Near East, to modern municipal buildings in the UK. The range of situations where sandstone is employed is vast, and everyone involved in its maintenance or care will be able to benefit from the findings of this research.

Watch this space! Keep an eye on the SEAHA website and for information on the project as it develops.

The 3rd International Conference on Science and Engineering in Arts, Heritage and Archaeology (SEAHA) will take place on 19-20 June 2017 at the University of Brighton. Click here to view the programme of themed sessions and flash presentations, and here to register.

Learning from nature: evaluating site-based conservation approaches to mitigating climatic risks to earthen heritage sites in north west China (Spotlight on SEAHA)

Next up in our Spotllight on SEAHA series is a guest post from Jenny Richards, presenting her research into the conservation of sites made from one of the oldest known materials: earth. 

Earth is one of the oldest and most universal construction materials. It has been used by humans since Neolithic times to build structures such as homes, temples and even entire cities.

As built earthen sites are found on every continent, they provide us with the opportunity to improve our understanding of past cultures across the world and learn how traditional buildings were used; the sites are also accessible for many people to visit and enjoy.

However, earthen structures are susceptible to damage by climatic and other natural processes such as earthquakes. Despite this vulnerability, the conservation of earthen sites has lagged behind other building materials, partly because earth has been viewed as a primitive building material. This has meant that many conservation methods have either i) been ineffective, ii) only worked for a few years, or iii) in extreme cases, have sped up the rate of degradation.

My research is aiming to use heritage science to improve the long-term conservation of earthen heritage by understanding how climatic and environmental processes interact with earthen sites. In my research, I will also investigate the potential of using natural, site-scale conservation methods such as planting a windbreak downwind of the site to reduce the impact of the climate on the earthen site.

The ancient city of Souyang located on the Silk Road, China. Each of the outer city walls are about 500 m in length. Source: Dunhuang Academy
My research is based at the ancient city of Souyang, located on the Silk Road in north west China. Souyang is one of the most intact cities from the Han, Sui and Tang Dynasties and is an exceptional example of a frontier defence city. However, its walls are degrading and future climatic changes are expected to increase rates of degradation.

Examples of deterioration seen at Souyang, caused by a) cracking, b) vegetation growth, and c) wind. Source: Dunhuang Academy
I am undertaking my research in collaboration with the Dunhuang Academy. This has meant that I have been able to utilise the extensive climate and vegetation data they have already collected. I will also be undertaking my own fieldwork at the site to investigate the relationship between microclimatic conditions and the extent to which the walls are degraded.

In addition to fieldwork at Souyang, I am using a computer model to understand how earthen heritage is affected by climatic processes and vegetation patterns. The computer model allows me to model complex interacting processes, use different initial conditions to understand how different climatic scenarios would affect the earthen site, and model the long-term impact of potential conservation strategies.

The Dunhuang Academy will be able to implement any findings at Souyang to improve its conservation strategy. The model will hopefully be able to be applied to other earthen heritage sites.

Find out more
Read more at:
Follow updates on Twitter: @jcjrichards18

The 3rd International Conference on Science and Engineering in Arts, Heritage and Archaeology (SEAHA) will take place on 19-20 June 2017 at the University of Brighton. Click here to view the programme of themed sessions and flash presentations, and here to register.