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.
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:
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).
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.
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
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 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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Our next blog post for British Science Week 2021 comes from Dr. Moira Bertasa, Research Assistant in Laser Conservation Science in the Department of Scientific Research at the British Museum. She describes new research to find a safe way of cleaning feathers with lasers.
The British Museum collection includes many objects made with bird feathers. This includes featherworks from South America and Oceania, but also more unusual objects such as a Victorian necklace with iridescent heads of humming birds and a Chinese snuff-bottle made with blue kingfisher feathers inlaid in silver (Figure 1). Cleaning feathers can be very difficult. Over time, they become brittle and traditional conservation cleaning methods such as gentle vacuum cleaning, brushing or solvent cleaning are unsuitable as they risk damage to the object.
In such situations, conservators and scientists join forces to explore new conservation techniques. I am a conservation scientist. In these years, I had the opportunity to explore a broad range of subjects from the study of innovative cleaning methods to remove stubborn stains from the artwork to the preservation of graffiti artworks. Currently, I am working with conservators at the British Museum to investigate the application of lasers to clean feathers. Laser radiation was found (by accident!) to be highly effective at removing black encrustations on marble facades while conducting holographic measurements in Venice in the 1970s. Since then, laser cleaning has become an established conservation method to clean stone and ceramics and it has been used at the British Museum since 2002. (To find out more about the Museum’s experience with laser cleaning, have a look at this short video)
Laser cleaning is a non-contact method, which makes it very useful for fragile artefacts, such as feathers. However, laser radiation can also cause serious damage to objects if the laser parameters are not carefully selected. For instance, at a high fluence (which is the energy of the laser per m2), it makes small holes in feathers, something that the conservators definitely want to avoid! This is why I do not test lasers on feathers from museum objects. Instead, I am currently testing our Er:YAG laser (Erbium-doped Yttrium Aluminium Garnetlaser) on pigeon feathers collected during a walk in my local park (Figure 2). This way, I can select the appropriate laser cleaning parameters without worrying about causing damage to museum artefacts. I have just started my research and, in collaboration with conservators, hope to determine an effective and safe laser-cleaning procedure for feathers.
Written by Dr Moira Bertasa – Research Assistant in Laser Conservation Science in the Department of Scientific Research at the British Museum (firstname.lastname@example.org)
M. Cooper and J. Larson (1998). Laser Cleaning in Conservation: An Introduction. A Butterworth-Heinemann Title
The Cleaning Modern Oil Paints project (CMOP) is a collaborative European research project, funded through the JPI Heritage Plus programme, which runs from June 2015 – May 2018. The project aims to investigate conservation challenges associated with twentieth and twenty-first century oil paintings in order to ensure that modern oil paintings continue to be fit for display for future generations.
Many unvarnished twentieth and twenty-first century oil paintings are exhibiting unusual water sensitivity. Water sensitivity can be defined as the unwanted removal of pigment and/or original material when a discrete cleaning test is carried out using a dampened cotton swab on the surface of a painting. Water sensitivity is not restricted to a particular oil-paint brand, or artist, and affects a broad range of paintings.
Water sensitivity is problematic for conservators, since many of the well-established methods for removing surface dirt (which naturally gathers over time) involves the skilled application of water based cleaning systems. Since dry-cleaning methods, for example using dry brushes or specialist sponges, are not always particularly effective at removing soiling, water sensitivity can complicate or even prevent effective treatment. This is problematic as accumulated surface dirt can change the appearance of paintings e.g. through altering the saturation, intensity and gloss of paint passages, and can, over the longer term, contribute to other unwanted side-effects relating to ageing and deterioration.
The interdisciplinary CMOP team have been investigating the underlying causes of water sensitivity in modern oil paints. This information has been used to inform the systematic testing and evaluation of selected cleaning systems for use on water sensitive modern oil paintings, with the aim of informing conservators about the risks involved and how to minimise them.
Part of the CMOP research has involved the chemical analysis of a series of naturally aged modern oil paint micro-samples, taken from case study oil paintings and from historic Winsor & Newton (W&N) artists’ oil paint swatches. The W&N paint swatches were originally produced by the manufacturer for quality control testing, and were subsequently donated to Tate by ColArt UK for research purposes.
W&W Artist Oil Colour swatches studied for the paper, shown in tungsten light (left) and UV light (right). Copyright Tate.
We are pleased to announce that the National Heritage Science Forum has kindly sponsored the Gold Open Access publication of a key CMOP research paper, entitled Scientific investigation into the water sensitivity of twentieth century oil paints, now published in the peer-reviewed Microchemical Journal. This describes an in-depth investigation into the chemical characteristics of water sensitive paint passages, and likely causal factors.
The research at Tate is led by Principal Conservation Scientist Dr Bronwyn Ormsby, with Post-doctoral Researcher Judith Lee, and with the support of Tate’s Collection Care Research. More information on the project and details of the key CMOP project dissemination event; Conference on Modern Oil Paints taking place on 23-25 May 2018, are available on Tate’s website.
The National Heritage Science Forum provides Gold Open Access grants to help to open up access to heritage science research. This funding is available to employees, students and members of our member organisations – find out more.
Next in our British Science Week 2018 series, Historic Royal Palaces’ Senior Conservation Scientist Dr Constantina Vlachou-Mogire tells us about investigating the Rubens ceiling paintings at Banqueting House…
Historic Royal Palaces is preparing for the 400th anniversary of the Banqueting House, which will take place in 2022. During this major project we have a rare opportunity to access and study in detail the Rubens ceiling paintings, their fabrication technique and current condition.
The Banqueting House is the last surviving building of Whitehall Palace which was destroyed by fire in 1698 (Figure 1). Set within a decorative coffered ceiling designed by the building’s architect, Inigo Jones are nine paintings by Rubens, the artist’s largest and most accomplished works to remain in the context for which they were designed. The paintings were commissioned in about 1629 by Charles I as a testament to the glory of the Stuart monarchy through the depiction of his father James I’s life and achievements.
These internationally significant paintings are an integral component of the architecture of the hall. Originally the Banqueting House Rubens ceiling paintings were oil-on-canvas stretched on strainers, but since 1907, they were attached to plywood boards. During their long history the paintings have been restored nine times—including in 1940 when they were cut up to evacuate the gigantic panels from the building.
High-resolution multi-spectral imaging
The first phase of our project involved capturing the condition of the paintings in high resolution images (Figure 2). The scale of the paintings, covering a total surface of 243 m2, and their position 17 m from the ground, made this task particularly challenging; however, recent advancements in digital photography helped us to overcome these difficulties. Collaboration with imaging specialists developed the application of GigaPan technology to document all nine paintings from the ground in visible light and infrared light as panoramic ‘Gigapixel’ images. Ultraviolet-induced luminescence images were taken at close-range from a scaffold, by illuminating small sections of the painting and later stitching the images together to full-painting size. Superimposing the visible, infrared and ultraviolet images allows analysis and detailed classification of the current condition of the paintings as a standing record. This will underpin further investigations and inform the programme of conservation of these important paintings.
We would like to thank the following external collaborators for their expert insights and contributions to the successful progress of this cross disciplinary project: UV/IR imaging Dr Giovanni Verri (Courtauld Institute of Art) and Steven Paine (Paine & Stewart), 3D laser scanning, visible ‘Giga’ imaging John Hallett Jones (Glanville Consultants).
Next in our British Science Week 2018 series, Michela Rampa talks about her student placement at The British Museum, analysing colours in 16th century Indian paintings and assessing light sensitivity. Find out more at The British Museum’s British Science Week event on Saturday 17 March.
Hello, my name is Michela Rampa. I am a student from the University of Rome, La Sapienza, in Italy where I am studying to become a museum scientist. I am currently doing a student placement at The British Museum for my final dissertation. What a fantastic opportunity!
At The British Museum I am based in the Scientific Research Department but also regularly meet with conservators. I am learning how to assess whether museum objects might fade when exposed to light using “microfadeometry”. Microfadeometry is a technique that involves exposing a very small area on an object to an intense light for a short amount of time and recording the colour change on this small area. By comparing the colour change with references, it is possible estimate whether the object is sensitive to light or not.
Why is it so important to assess the lightfastness of museum objects? Many museum objects are light sensitive, for instance: watercolours, prints or textiles. We cannot stop fading from occurring when these objects are displayed, but we can ensure that light-sensitive objects fade so slowly that they will be seen by countless generations of visitors to the Museum in the future. Knowing if an object is likely to fade when exposed to light helps curators to decide how long it can be displayed and under which conditions. For example, microfading tests carried out on Hokusai’s iconic prints ‘The Great Wave’ and ‘Red Fuji’ last year showed that these should be displayed using dim light for a short amount of time (read about it here).
I am currently investigating the lightfastness of some Indian paintings, which will go on display in the new Albukhary Foundation Galleries of the Islamic World at the end of this year. One of them is a very colourful Hamzanama painting made in 1500. (Hamzanama is a series of manuscripts, most of them illustrated, that narrate the legendary deeds of Amir Hamza, the uncle of prophet Muhammad). It is very valuable and I have identified at least 13 different colours on it! I expected that most colours on this painting were produced using mineral pigments and therefore would not fade. However, I am discovering that, on the contrary, several colours, such as green, are light sensitive! I am hoping to perform more analysis to find out why these colours are affected by light. Work in progress!
In the meantime, if you want to know more about the work scientists do at the British Museum, please come and find me and the rest of the Scientific Research team at our annual event ZOOM IN: a closer look at science on Saturday 17 March 2018, 10.00 – 16.00, in the Great Court at The British Museum. Learn about all of the different techniques that are used to analyse the Museum’s collections, handle different kinds of raw materials and see the latest behind-the-scenes technology in action. This is a FREE event too!
Michela can be contacted by email and on LinkedIn. You can find out more about the upcoming Albukhary Foundation Galleries of the Islamic World on The British Museum website.