Heritage science infrastructure investment

This event, hosted by the National Heritage Science Forum (NHSF) Research Working Group, celebrated the recent enhancement of Heritage Science research infrastructure through the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s (AHRC) Capability for Collections (CapCo) scheme. This development supports the Research Working Group’s key outcome of physical and digital infrastructure so that research takes place across the United Kingdom. 

Chaired by Prof. May Cassar and Dr Lucia Pereira Pardo, this meeting comprised six ‘lightning’ presentations from recipients of CapCo funding, detailing their bids, as well as the benefits resulting from, and challenges involved in, their research infrastructure projects. 

Speaker 1 
Dr Lora Angelova (Head of Conservation Research and Audience Development, The National Archives) 

Science in the Stacks: Developing HSCR at The National Archives [PDF] 

This talk described the use of CapCo funding to improve the analytical capacity of The National Archives (TNA). Dr Angelova highlighted the benefits of new equipment, particularly the opportunities for new research, as well as both internal and external collaborations, while noting some logistical challenges in obtaining new equipment during a global pandemic, and in the aftermath of Brexit. The creative and proactive methods for mitigating ongoing costs associated with new equipment being investigated by TNA were also outlined. 

Speaker 2 
Dr Constantina Vlachou-Mogire (Heritage Science Manager, Historic Royal Palaces) 

Historic Royal Palaces Heritage Science Laboratory Upgrade 

This talk focussed on CapCo-funded equipment upgrades in the Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) Heritage Science Laboratory, located at Hampton Court Palace. Dr Vlachou-Mogire explained how HRP’s newly renovated laboratory and portable equipment enables it to perform more holistic analysis internally, supporting its research and saving on outsourcing to support its pandemic. The location of the laboratory within the Palace, along with time constraints and supply chain issues, were the principal challenges for this project. 

Speaker 3  
Daniel Bone (Head of Conservation, Ashmolean Museum)  

The CapCo Experience, Oxford 

This talk concerned the University of Oxford’s CapCo bid for Technologies for Gardens, Libraries and Museums (GLAMTech). Benefits of the investment ranged from the increased profile of Heritage Science within the university to an improvement in the level of everyday work and improved public accessibility. New equipment is already yielding results for research featuring in publications, podcasts and a major upcoming exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum. Meeting deadlines within university systems was a challenge, while like TNA, Oxford is investigating ways to mitigate ongoing costs. 

Speaker 4  
Prof. Adam Gibson (Deputy Director, UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage)  

Collections-focussed optical and x-ray spectroscopic imaging and analysis [PDF]

This talk discussed the CapCo project at UCL, involving multiple university departments, to upgrade equipment which was in high demand but becoming obsolete. Prof. Gibson informed attendees that the investment has driven a wide range of collaborations, and presented new opportunities for research and teaching. Logistical issues, particularly concerning differing Covid restrictions between UCL in London and its main supplier in Scotland, were a significant challenge. 

Speaker 5  
Dr Rebecca Stacey (Head of mass spectrometry facilities, Department of Scientific Research, British Museum)  

Investment in mass spectrometry infrastructure at the British Museum 

This talk focussed on the improvements to the mass spectrometry facilities at the British Museum (BM). Dr Stacey talked about the replacement of an outdated piece of equipment with a modern, higher-specification model, as well as the installation of a new server to integrate research both internally and with broader BM systems. Research and analysis have significantly benefited from these developments, while the laboratory refurbishment strengthened connections with the BM’s other scientific departments. 

Speaker 6  
Dr Lisa Brown (Archaeological Science Manager, Historic Environment Scotland) & Dr Aurélie Turmel (Conservation Science Manager, Historic Environment Scotland)  

Research upgrades at Historic Environment Scotland 

In this talk, Dr Brown explained how Historic Environment Scotland (HES) used CapCo funding to upgrade scientific equipment used across the organisation. New equipment has significantly enhanced the capacity of HES to survey and analyse properties under its care, and to conduct research to enable evidence-based conservation decision-making. The HES Eternal Connections project which seeks to stimulate discussion and creative practice around the heritage of Scotland’s Muslim community, is one of the public-facing projects which is benefiting from new equipment. 

 

The presentations were followed by a short update from AHRC’s Tao-Tao Chang, then a Q&A Session. 

Read a fuller summary of the event here: Summary of heritage science infrastructure event

 

Speaker biographies 

Lora Angelova is Head of Conservation Research and Audience Development at The National Archives, UK, where she previously worked as a Conservation Scientist. Lora’s background is in chemistry and surface cleaning of cultural and heritage materials, and current focus lies in the intersection of heritage science, conservation research, and archival practice. 

Dr Constantina Vlachou-Mogire, Heritage Science Manager, Historic Royal Palaces (HRP), is responsible for the planning and execution of research projects informing the preservation of the diverse objects and interiors of the Palaces, leading internal and external research partnerships and was the PI for the HRP Heritage Science Laboratory Upgrade AHRC Capability for Collections award. Since 2012 Constantina coordinates the Historic Royal Palaces Heritage Science Scholarship scheme supporting BAME graduates to study at Masters level at UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage. Constantina has been a Trustee of the National Heritage Science Forum (2014-2019) and currently is Co Convenor of the Excellent Research Working Group (2018 – present). Constantina is an accredited member of the Institute of Conservation (Icon), a member of the International Institute for Conservation (IIC) and represents HRP at the BSI Committee B/560 Conservation of Tangible Cultural Heritage. 

Daniel Bone is Head of Conservation at the Ashmolean Museum and Principle Investigator for the Oxford CapCo bid, GLAMTech: Technologies for Gardens, Libraries and Museums, collections research. 

Adam Gibson is Deputy Director of UCL’s Institute for Sustainable Heritage. He led a successful AHRC Capability for Collections call which funded replacement hyperspectral imaging cameras and portable x-ray fluorescence analysers. His research interests are in heritage and medical imaging. 

Dr Rebecca Stacey is a scientist and head of the mass spectrometry facilities in the Department of Scientific Research at the British Museum. Her research focuses on amorphous organic materials such as varnishes, adhesives and organic residues and specifically the use of molecular analysis to address questions concerning their source, production and use in the past, as well as understanding subsequent alteration. From March to July 2021 she was seconded to the AHRC as an Infrastructure Policy and Engagement Fellow. 

Lisa Brown is the Archaeological Science Manager at Historic Environment Scotland. Her role is to help coordinate, promote and celebrate archaeological science across the sector. She provides advice and guidance, manages the nationwide radiocarbon dating contract and is the HES lead in the delivery of innovation in science for HES, as part of Scotland's Archaeology Strategy. Aurélie Turmel is the Conservation Science Manager at HES. She manages a team of conservation scientists and a climate scientist. The conservation science team focuses on the characterisation and identification of decay, and understanding future behaviour of materials employed at HES sites. The team also gives advice to external stakeholders and supports applied research development.