Science and Heritage Programme

Events Archive

For information about past events organised by the Science and Heritage Programme please see below. 

Witness Seminars

December 8th-9th 2010

A series of four witness seminars were held on ‘Science and Heritage’, organised in collaboration with the Science and Heritage Programme, which is directed by Professor May Cassar and funded jointly by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The witness seminars explored individual and collective memories of the development of science and heritage in the second half of the twentieth century and early twenty-first century, particularly in the UK but also internationally. From the end of World War II up till the present day, the development of the application of science to cultural heritage (which may be interpreted variously as archaeological science, conservation science, building science and more recently heritage science) has ebbed and sometimes flowed, according to changes in policy, the economy and socio-cultural priorities. Nevertheless, the trend has been toward slow growth and some improvement. The more recent focus of funding on heritage science research has seen renewed interest in scientific investigation to support our understanding and the conservation of cultural heritage.

The witness seminars were chaired by: Sir Alan Wilson (AHRC); Professor Maurice Howard (University of Sussex); Philip Ball; and Dr Robert Bud (The Science Museum).


Jonathan Ashley-Smith; Jo Kirby Atkinson (International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works); Nancy Bell (The National Archives); Dr Peter Cannon-Brookes (formerly at National Museum of Wales); Sharon Cather (The Courtauld Institute of Art); Mike Corfield (Cardiff University); Dr Ben Cowell (The National Trust); Dr Vincent Daniels (The British Museum); Laura Drysdale; John Fidler (Simpson Gumpertz & Heger Inc Consulting Engineers, Los Angeles); Kate Frame (Historic Royal Palaces); Dr Velson Horie; Professor Carl Heron (University of Bradford); Sir Donald Insall, CBE; Dr Suzanne Keene (UCL); Dr David Leigh (formerly, International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works); Ingval Maxwell (formerly at Historic Scotland); Stefan Michalski (Canadian Conservation Institute); Dr John S. Mills (former, The National Gallery); Dr Andrew Oddy (Formerly Keeper of Conservation at The British Museum); Crispin Paine; Jerry Podany (J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles); Professor Elizabeth Pye (UCL); Alison Richmond (Institute of Conservation); Baroness Sharp of Guildford (Chair of the Science and Heritage Programme Advisory Panel); Dr David Saunders (The British Museum); Sarah Stainforth (The National Trust); Dr Joyce Hill Stoner (University of Delaware); Professor Michael Tite (University of Oxford).

Collaborative Research Studentship Symposium

Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford
September 14th 2010

Presentations given by all 10 students can be downloaded below:

Deterioration and Conservation of Historic Concrete Structures: the National Museum of Flight Military Airfield at East Fortune
University of Edinburgh, in partnership with National Museums Scotland   

Historic Dye Analysis: Method Development and New Applications in Cultural Heritage
University of Edinburgh, in partnership with National Museums Scotland and Glasgow Museums   

In Situ Preservation of Wetland Heritage: Hydrological and Chemical Change in the Burial Environment of the Somerset Levels, UK
University of Reading, in partnership with English Heritage   

Interventive Conservation of Black-Dyed Organic Materials: The Problem of Metal-polyphenol Complexes
University of Manchester, in partnership with The British Museum   

Investigation into Structural Analysis and Associated Conservation Support Strategy in the Display of Large Historic Tapestries
University of Manchester, in partnership with Historic Royal Palaces    

Lifetime of Colour Photographs in Mixed Archival Collections

Centre for Sustainable Heritage, University College London, in partnership with The National Archives

Non-invasive Methods for In Situ Assessing and Monitoring the Vulnerability of Rock Art Monuments
Nottingham Trent University in partnership with English Heritage

Preparing Historic Collections for Climate Change

University of East Anglia, in partnership with English Heritage   

Sustainable Radiography for Cultural Materials in the 21st Century: Optimising Filmless Capture Techniques
University of Bradford (Archaeological Sciences), in partnership with National Museums Liverpool   

Weathering and Decay in Historical Magnesian Limestone: Application of X-Ray Techniques to Inform Cathedral Conservation in the 21st Century
Cardiff University in partnership with York Minster

Solving Challenges in Heritage: The Role of Sensors and Instruments

Sensors and instrumentation are widely used in all areas of science and heritage, with examples of applications including environmental monitoring in museums, remote sensing and survey in archaeology and 3D scanning and data acquisition of buildings and monuments. Through a series of presentations from industrialists, heritage professionals, and researchers working in this area, this event held at the National Conservation Centre in Liverpool on December 11th 2008, in partnership with the Sensors and Instrumentation KTN aimed to:

  • Raise awareness and stimulate specific ideas for potential applications of sensors and instrumentation in the heritage domain
  • Understand the key drivers for the adoption of instrumentation by the heritage community
  • Showcase ideas for instrumented applications to stimulate the development of funding proposals and research partnerships
  • Showcase innovative technologies that may facilitate the development of new heritage applications for sensors and instrumentation
  • Provide networking opportunities for those interested in building a community of interested parties in this field
Download the event programme

Abstracts and Presentations

Monitoring and Investigation Challenges in heritage-Object Conservation and Display.

Sandra Smith - Head of the Conservation Department, The Victoria and Albert Museum

There is a paradox between conserving collections, which may require anoxic, air-tight, light-free, inaccessible storage areas, and making them accessible through open, non air conditioned, highly-lit, displays.  The compromise is to accept some deterioration but to find ways to control and manage the rate of decay. Monitoring and investigation have an important role to play in helping to determine what is an acceptable and manageable risk to the collection.  

Understanding objects’  ‘life-times’ is key to considering their use within a museum. An object’s appearance and its capacity to be on display for over 25 years (the average lifetime of a gallery)  requires investigation into its strength which in turn will affect mounting and display methodology. Its prolonged interaction with the gallery environment requires testing of display materials and showcases as well as monitoring of ‘ambient’ conditions. The use of sensors to monitor temperature and relative humidity and dosimeters to record cumulative light exposure help us to make generic policy decisions on display parameters and duration.  A greater emphasis on open display increases risk from pollutants and dust whilst international tours of exhibitions subject collections to vibration and shock.  Greater understanding of the impact of these factors on the collections could improve gallery design and packing systems. 

With over 4.6 million objects in the V&A alone it is impossible to monitor each  individually and more generic approaches, which provide quick and standardised overviews of the condition of collections, are often most useful. Except in very rare cases, monitoring systems which result in damage to an object are considered unacceptable and less interventive ways of recording are sought; instead of monitoring the moisture content of a wooden artefact, the relative humidity of the ambient environment is used as the indicator.   Recreating test samples which mimic aged collections is virtually impossible and further complicated by original surface decoration and finishing techniques. Monitoring real-time reactions in controlled conditions and extrapolating the results of accelerated ageing, whilst indicative, require considerable interpretation to determine the implications for a 700 year old object.

Conserving collections from the 20th century will be one of the key challenges for museums in the future; plastics, synthetic fabrics and digital media are found in many museums.  Finding ways to identify the materials and understand their degradation processes will enable us to develop preventive and interventive solutions for their preservation.  

Download Sandra Smith's Presentation

Monitoring and Investigation Challenges in Heritage – Buildings

Dr. Nigel Blades - Preventative Conservation Advisor, The National Trust

This presentation will review a range of techniques used by the National Trust to monitor and investigate historic buildings.  This will include routine investigations of the location of building services, assessment of the energy efficiency of buildings and more specialist investigations addressing specific building conservation problems.  The Trust undertakes much of this work in house, but also works closely with consultants and external advisers where the application of specialist techniques is required.  The presentation will consider some of the difficulties encountered in working on historic buildings and will highlight the Trust's areas of interest for the future development of sensors and instrumentation.

Download Nigel Blades' presentation

Monitoring / Investigation Challenges in Heritage – Landscapes

Jenifer White - Senior Landscape Advisor, English Heritage

As the Government’s adviser for the historic environment and as the custodian for a diverse portfolio of historic properties, English Heritage’s has a wide range of interests in landscapes.  We are interested in large scale landscapes like the national parks to individual designs such as country houses, and down to smaller scale detail such as the overall impact of individual domestic gardens in shaping character of our historic suburbs.   The historic environment is relevant to many government policies, including sustainable development, climate change, civil renewal, rural affairs, transport, tourism and fiscal reform. English Heritage engages with a wide range of policy issues to draw attention to the public value of the historic environment, and the contribution it can make to the quality of life.  Research and monitoring is essential to developing policies and influencing others’ agendas. The presentation will look at examples where new research and monirtoring developments could help further landscape conservation, and in particular historic parks and gardens.

Download Jenifer White's presentation

Time-lapse monitoring using non-intrusive electrical tomography: some case studies

Dr. Richard Ogilvy - Team Leader, Geophysical Tomography, British Geological Survey

Significant advances have been made in recent times with the non-invasive electrical tomographic imaging of the shallow subsurface. These emerging technologies are analogous to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or CT scans used in medical physics. Electrical Resistivity Tomography (ERT) is increasingly used to underpin studies in waste management, contaminated land characterisation and remediation, monitoring groundwater resources and the monitoring of geohazards or safety-critical plant. There is significant potential for using some of these techniques for the non-destructive, real-time monitoring of important heritage sites or buildings to assess the impact of environmental change on their physical integrity and resilience.  This paper will describe some of the technologies developed by BGS, including our sensors, image reconstruction algorithms and survey methodologies, and how these might be adapted for heritage conservation purposes, viz:
• Electrical Resistivity Tomography (ERT). New survey design and array optimisation schemes have been developed to give improved volumetric images at a range of scales.
• Capacitive Resistivity Imaging (CRI). Capacitive electrodes now permit continuous high-density, non-intrusive scans below highly resistive artificial or engineered surfaces (such as masonry, walls, foundations and pavement). For large areal coverage, our CRI surveys are integrated with real-time kinematic global positioning systems to provide accurate navigation and location recovery. CRI (like GPR) is entirely non-contacting so surfaces are not disturbed by this technique.
• Self-Potential Tomography (SPT). SPT is one of the few geophysical techniques that can detect electro-filtration effects associated with fluid flow and hence SPT can detect and image water infiltration pathways within structures.
• Automated time-Lapse Electrical Resistivity Tomography (ALERT). ALERT can monitor temporal changes in subsurface electrical properties using permanently installed instrumentation and electrode arrays or sensor networks. Sites can be interrogated from the office "on demand" using wireless telemetry (GSM, GPRS, internet or satellite), thereby eliminating the need for expensive repeat surveys, visual inspections or manual intervention. The impact of transient events (e.g: from storms, flooding or extreme desiccation) can now be captured in real-time allowing early remedial or preventative maintenance. The volumetric nature of 3D or time-lapse 4D ERT also allows the detection of degradation that could be easily missed by isolated or infrequent “spot” sampling. Automated ALERT monitoring technology is likely to be increasingly important in the future as climate change, and high levels of anthropogenic activity, impact on our cultural heritage. 

Download Richard Ogilvy's presentation

Seeing Through Walls

Dr Richard Lacey - Home Office Scientific Development Branch

Download Richard Lacey's presentation

The Real Thing. Novel sensors for monitoring condition of books and archives

Dr Velson Horie - Research Project Manager, The British Library

Download Velson Horie's presentation

New Sensors and Monitoring Systems to Advance our Understanding of Heritage Loss

Dr Matija Strlic - Centre for Sustainable Heritage, University College London

Download Matija Strlic's presentation

Realising the Potential of Sensing and Instrumentation - How Can We Help?

Robin Higgons - Sensors and Instrumentation KTN

Download Robin Higgons' presentation

Speed Dating for Research

The Speed Dating Event was held in partnership with the Institute of Conservation (ICON) on Tuesday 16th October 2007 at University College London (2.00pm - 4.30pm) to help bring together partners from different institutions with similar interests. 

Download the dossier of participants.

LWEC workshop

Participants at the joint AHRC/Science and Heritage Programme/Landsacape and Environment Programme Living with Environmental Change workshop on April 7th 2009.