Five minutes with… Dr Clare Torney, Conservation Scientist, Historic Scotland

What’s your background in science/heritage?

I trained as an Earth Scientist, obtaining my Honours degree from the University of Glasgow, and had my introduction to heritage at the Scottish Lime Centre Trust (SLCT) where I worked as a materials analyst. Following a year at SLCT, I returned to University to do a PhD – believe it or not I studied the eyes of 500 million year old sea creatures called trilobites! Although this seems pretty far removed from heritage science, I now apply many of the same techniques and skills used in this work to the material I work on now – so this was the perfect training for my career in heritage science!

What’s your role at Historic Scotland?

I make up one third of Historic Scotland’s ‘Conservation Science’ team. I am involved in managing a number of heritage science research projects that are run collaboratively with Universities across Scotland. This research focuses on a range of historic and traditional building materials and aims to give us a better understanding of the properties and performance of different materials. I like to have a ‘hands on’ approach to research, and so also carry out my own work on stone and mortars. This work directly impacts upon our practise, helping us make decisions on how best to maintain and repair our buildings.

Durham cathedral stone repair
Durham Cathedral, showing areas of stone deterioration and areas of repair – in this case, stone replacement


Sandstone under the microscope
Sandstone seen under the microscope – detailed analysis like this enhances our understanding of how materials behave


What’s been the most exciting/challenging thing you’ve worked on recently?

I am currently working on a number of new Historic Scotland publications relating to repair and conservation of traditional buildings. These provide a really exciting opportunity to use my research to impact the wider heritage sector. However, the challenge is in writing a concise document on something that you could talk about all day!

Who inspires you?

I am inspired by so many in my field that I couldn’t choose just one! There are so many scientists that have paved the way for us, allowing us to do the work that we do today. Without the development of techniques such as microscopy and X-ray analysis my work would be even more challenging

What do you love most about your job?

I love the variety that my job brings – not only the opportunity to apply so many different scientific techniques to heritage materials, but also the opportunity to disseminate my work through written publications and oral presentations. Also, I love working with such a diverse group of people who are so passionate about what they do.

In a single sentence, tell us what’s great about heritage science?

Knowing that you play a part in safeguarding our heritage so future generations can enjoy it as we have.