My Path Through Research

The Trials and Triumphs of Doing a PhD

RSC does Heritage Science

Earlier this year I applied and was accepted as a member of the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC). On joining I started looking at the events being offered, and one which caught my eye in particular was the event ‘Heritage Science: Does that Deal with Old Science or New Challenges?‘.

This event was being organized by the RSC Marketing Group in collaboration with the science department at the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum. So far I had not been for a good visit to the V&A, except for a presentation being given there by a friend about her PhD in the field. I thought that this would be a good opportunity to get a bit more involved with the RSC, while learning more about heritage science in practice.

As the event was on Monday, when a tube strike was lovingly gracing the underground system of London, I decided to cycle there using the ‘Boris bikes’. I arrived a bit early and took the opportunity to have a quick trip around the exhibits. Unfortunately the photography gallery was closed due to lack of staff as a result of the strike. I did manage to make it to the tapestry gallery though. There I was particularly fascinated by the smell, probably emanating from the tapestries themselves.

Having had a quick look around the museum I then made my way to the lecture theatre. For the event I was also joined by Eva, a PhD student in my department. The first thing on the program was a short lecture by Graham Martin, Head of Science at the museum, giving an introduction to Heritage Science. It was a very good introduction to the subject, pitched perfectly for the mainly non-heritage science chemists in the audience. However, the most interesting to me was definitely what came after!

Following the presentation we were then given security passes, divided into groups and sent off with one of the scientist to have a look around the museum and the labs. The scientist leading our group was Graham Martin himself, and he did a very good job of showing us how scientific research has fed into the way the objects are displayed, particularly in the Jameel gallery (below). This is after all the aim of heritage science: that what is being studied can feed directly into the field to improve the condition of heritage objects, be they big buildings, or minuscule jewels.

During the trip around the museum we also came across the tapestry gallery again. I swiftly grabbed Eva and took her in there for a sniff. We are now both curious as to the volatile organic compounds, or pollutants, which are being given off from the tapestries and creating that smell. Maybe we should do some investigation of our own? I guess we’ll have to wait and see!

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