One of the primary aims of the Conservation staff is to undertake the research and development needed to continually improve techniques and processes. Such research and development is primarily targeted at the needs of the Victoria and Albert Museum, but of course it also benefits the profession as a whole. Dissemination of the results is an imperative part of the overall process. International and national collaborative projects are also undertaken on a regular basis.
There are three main streams in which research and development take place in the Museum: as part of their day-to-day work, conservators often investigate subjects such as the materials and techniques used in conservation, for example new or improved adhesives. These investigations may also involve curators from the various collections in the V&A.
The RCA/V&A Postgraduate Programme places students in the Conservation studios who may then undertake investigations. This also helps to fulfil staff resources required for some of the larger museum or externally funded projects.
There are also dedicated research programmes within the museum. These may involve more than one member of staff. They may require secondment or transfer to the V&A's own Research department itself. The staff that are most likely to implement the results of the study may be consulted and also encouraged to take an active part in the work programme. Financial resources for the work may also come from a variety of sources: in-house; from the UK research councils or from international funding agencies. Some research projects result in commercially viable products such as the light dosimetres pictured here.
The Science laboratory is a part of the Conservation department. The areas covered by the multi-disciplinary lab team include: chemistry, physics, materials science, conservation science, polymer science and microscopy. More information about the Science section may be found on the Conservation Staff pages. Ongoing museum initiatives that fall within their sphere include: environmental monitoring and advice; lighting and solar control policies and implementation; dust monitoring; technical examination of artefact constituents and response to environments; insect pest management; paint and pigment analysis and display cases.
A short introduction to some of the current initiatives undertaken by the V&A Conservation science lab follows. Further information about the external collaborative projects made by found from the Conservation Links page.
This part EC funded project has twelve partners around Europe and the USA. It started on 1 October 2008. The objective is to develop a European wide accepted strategy that improves preservation and maintenance of plastics objects in museum collections. Based on scientific studies and experiences gathered from partners, it is proposed to evaluate and establish recommended practices and risk associated for exhibiting, cleaning, protecting, and storing these artefacts. During the twentieth century artists have used synthetic polymers to create important pieces that are recognized nowadays as masterpieces. Unfortunately, some artefacts are degrading faster than had been expected and their preservation constitutes a challenge. Their is a lack of knowledge and agreement about the way we can exhibit, clean and store them in order to lower their deterioration rate. The focus of this project will be on art museum collections created with synthetic polymers (typically cellulose nitrate, cellulose acetate and poly(vinyl chloride) with a special interest in polyurethane objects and coatings) and will focus on three dimensional objects as these frequently exhibit physical degradation.
OCEAN stands for Object Centred Environmental Analysis Network and is the V&A's environmental monitoring system, installed in 2004. It is a radio network of data loggers spanning the Museum and its outstations, sending continually updated data on temperature and relative humidity back to the Science Conservation Lab.
An article written by Dr Martin Hancock, Managing Director of Hanwell Instruments gives more detailed background information on the OCEAN Project at the V&A. It is available in full in the Online Conservation Journal no.46
An excerpt follows:
"The OCEAN (Object Centred Environmental Analysis Network) project is an attempt to combine the cumulative practical experience of the V&A staff with the technical expertise of an external company in order to produce a robust and user-friendly monitoring system. At the V&A, this new radio based system will consist of a thousand or more environmental sensors over a range of geographically separated sites ..."
For a glossary of conservation terms please see the V&A Conservation Glossary of Environmental Care
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