My Path Through Research

The Trials and Triumphs of Doing a PhD

Progress of Work

I realise I haven’t written much about how I am doing in my research. However, don’t worry, this has not meant that I am not doing anything.

One of the things I have been working on has been a paper on the results I have obtained from environmental monitoring as well as data I have been provided with from other sources which I could include in this paper. This paper, which we have been working on since the summer, has finally been submitted last week or so. So now we wait for the comments from the peer review process, and hopefully they will be favourable and I will see the paper in print.

Apart from that my work has been on a stop-start situation. Being in a quite new centre has meant that there is very few pieces of equipment available. This has meant that I need to order most of the equipment and material I need myself. This has been both positive and negative. It is negative because it means that time is ‘wasted’ waiting for the equipment to arrive, putting it together, figuring out how it works etc. However, it also means I get new equipment which hopefully is not continuously breaking down!

Well, last week I think (! I don’t want to jinx the situation right now) I received the last of the equipment I need, at least for the time being. Thus, for the past week I have been busy getting my samples ready and the equipment ready to be able to start the experiments next week. I have set up most of the equipment, and done around half of the pre-ageing measurements of my samples. Hopefully next week will see me starting the experiments and then I will have results to look at and admire (and discuss!)

Will keep you updated!

Filed under: Experiments and Methodology, Research Process, , , , ,

Monitoring at St. Paul’s Cathedral

The Centre for Sustainable Heritage at UCL, where I am based for my PhD is right now carrying out an environmental monitoring campaign at St. Paul’s Cathedral, with a particular emphasis on the library within. The reason for this is that there are plans to increase access to this area of the cathedral. However, prior to this being put in action it is essential to understand better the environmental conditions in the area to ensure that the changes occurring are done in as sustainable a manner as possible.

The environmental monitoring campaign involves the monitoring of a number of parameters. The main parameters investigated are temperature and RH, traffic-generated pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, and the measurement of VOCs. So far I have been involved in the monitoring of VOCs. Having carried out a similar monitoring campaign at TNA for my PhD my supervisor asked me if I was interested in getting involved in this project at St. Paul’s Cathedral. I was definitely up for it: the more projects I am involved in, the more experience and knowledge I gain…that’s never a bad thing. I carried out two VOCs monitoring schedules, one in spring and one in summer.

However, last week my supervisor asked me if I was willing to help out in some other monitoring, this time to measure the air ventilation exchange rate which was being carried out in collaboration with the building environment group in the department (the CSH is based within the faculty of the Built Environment). The monitoring process this time round involved the release of carbon dioxide into the library space and then measuring the rate of loss over time while changing the conditions (such as which doors are open) at known intervals, according to relevant standards. This would allow a better understanding of how different ways of managing the space in terms of people visiting would affect the environmental conditions.

As my supervisor had to be out of town attending a conference, it fell to me to organise the last bits and pieces for this monitoring. This mainly involved figuring out regulators for the carbon dioxide cylinders. The regulators we had in the centre were not appropriate for our requirements, which meant that we tried to obtain them from outside the department (and the university as it came). After a lot of calls, testings, trials and tribulations (OK I am exaggerating a bit here :P) we got our regulators, so that monitoring on Thursday proceeded smoothly.

It was the first time I was involved in something like this, and it was an interesting experience. It is always good to see people form different backgrounds (in this case it was people from conservation, chemistry, building environment) coming together to produce something together…the different insights brought into the discussions is always enlightening.

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Environmental Monitoring

I want to get you up to date with what I have been up to so far, so I hope this will be the first of a number of posts where I write about what I have been up to so far.

My project involves understanding how colour photographs interact with their environment, particularly when stored in an archive (since my work is a collaboration with the National Archives). However, for this to be possible it was important for me to first understand exactly what the environment (both macro- and micro-) is like in the location where they are actually stored, that is, in the National Archives. Thus, the first study I wanted to undertake was exactly this: understanding the micro- and macro-environments present for the photographs in archival storage at the National Archives.

How do you go about doing that? 

There are various methods of measuring the concentration of components in an environment, from passive methods to active methods, continuous methods to single measurements. Most of the equipment on the market has been developed in response to health and safety requirements of limiting the concentration of the said chemical in an environment. This means that they are generally geared towards measuring the concentration levels that would cause need for health and safety issues to be investigated. However, heritage materials are not necessarily damaged solely by chemicals which are of a health and safety issue. Also, the concentrations which are of importance for understanding what the long-term effects on heritage materials (in this case colour photographs) are would often be lower than health and safety standards. This sometimes causes problems in that the equipment available would not be sensitive to the low concentrations you want to measure.

Luckily, the department has purchased over the past months a set of active monitors which measure concentrations of specific pollutants in a continuous manner. This allowed me to use this equipment to obtain readings over a week, thus allowing me the possibility to not only see instantanoues levels, but also to observe and daily cycles that may be occurring. 

Besides these active monitors, passive monitors, i.e. monitors which collect data over a period of time, giving the total concentration of a chemical absorbed during the period of monitoring, were also used. This is also useful since it allows you to observe the dose that the material is getting over the period of monitoring. 

Of course, temperature and relative humidity are important variables to note in an environment. Luckily, the National Archives have their own monitoring system set up to continuously monitor these two conditions, so I could also get more long-term data for these, as they have been monitored for a number of months.

I am currently in the process of analysing the data I have already collected, while still obtaining more data using other monitors for other compounds. By the end of the monitoring period I should have a clearer picture of what variables with respect to environment conditions I should be considering for my experimental phase. Will keep you posted!

In the meantime, you can read more about a project on monitoring of pollutants in the museum environment at the Getty here.

Filed under: Experiments and Methodology, Research Process, , , , , ,

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