Research is the foundation of the department and is carried out by conservators, scientists and staff from the documentation team. Using a variety of techniques and specialist technology, the department’s work reveals crucial and fascinating information about materials and objects in the Museum’s collection.
Conservation research includes the study of the deterioration and alteration of artefacts or the materials they are made from. The results of such research allows new or improved conservation methods to be developed. Other work involves investigating and evaluating the materials used in conservation, storage and display, as well as defining and implementing strategies for preventive conservation, which is vital for ensuring the future of the collection.
Scientific research focuses on manufacturing technologies and the different types of materials used to make the objects in the collection. Such materials include stone, glass, metals, ceramics, minerals, gems and pigments, and organics. A range of analytical techniques is used to investigate objects, not only to reveal what they are made of, how they were made, when and where they were made and what this tells us about their history and use, but also to inform the conservation process.
Analytical techniques routinely used include optical microscopy, dating, GC/MS (Gas chromatography - mass spectrometry), Atomic absorption spectrophotometry, X-ray diffraction, Infrared and Raman spectroscopy, Inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectrometry, X-ray fluorescence, scanning electron microscopy and radiography.
Much of the research described above is carried out over extended periods and in collaboration both with colleagues from other Museum departments and with other institutions. Interdisciplinary study, involving the collaborative efforts of curators, conservators and scientists, continues to take on new challenges and to find new solutions.
The research undertaken by the department is described in internal reports or made available via books, journals or conference proceedings.