Setting up conservation science collaborations

On Tuesday 10 May, IMSE staff Leah Adamson and Isabella von Holstein joined Ambrose Taylor of the Science and Engineering for Cultural Heritage (SERCH) network for a tour of the new Victoria and Albert Museum Conservation Science laboratory.

In the John Madejski garden: the architecture of the V&A is unmistakable!

We’re neighbours: the V&A is just down the road from Imperial’s South Kensington Campus.

Senior Scientist Lucia Burgio led the tour and Lab Coordinator Valentina Risdonne demonstrated the equipment. Head of Conservation Pedro Gaspar joined us to discuss future collaborations.

The V&A conservation science lab was recently upgraded thanks to a £2.3 million grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. This enabled the lab to buy state-of-the-art equipment including new XRF (X-ray fluorescence) spectrometers, a range of digital microscopes, an SEM-EDX (scanning electron microscope with energy dispersive X-ray analysis) and a suite of other high-tech instruments.

Woman in front of computer screen showing very high resolution close-up photographs of the surface of a pen-and-ink drawing
Valentina Risdonne, of the Conservation Science Laboratory, demonstrating the HIROX digital microscope. She’s taking very high resolution images of a pen-and-ink drawing by Palladio

The V&A lab enables conservation science within the V&A. It allows conservators and scientists to examine an object at very high resolution. They use non-destructive spectroscopic analyses to establish how it was made, whether it is damaged, whether it has been repaired and how it can be best conserved.

IMSE helped set up the SERCH network in 2021. It’s a network of excellence within Imperial College London, bringing together scientists, engineers, conservators and curators. The aim of the network is to foster collaboration, in two ways:

Old and new tech meet at the heart of London. The view from the window of the Conservation Science Laboratory, showing the newly installed hanging power blocks, plus ventilation pipes

The SERCH network have curated a series of webinars on science in cultural heritage, including using AI to examine underdrawings in paintings, using advanced spectroscopy methods to analyse the paint, and using lasers to clean it.

Find out more about SERCH

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