October 1999 Issue 33
Samples: What is their worth ?
A sample can be taken from an object which is representative of a section of that object or a part of the whole object. The worth of such samples, beyond their short term usage, can be called into question. Assuming that the examination process does not destroy the sample, what 'status' does it hold in relation to the original object, or other Museum property? Is it a museum object in its own right; still considered 'part' of the object; or merely property? Who has rights of ownership, access and use?
Arguably, for the museum scientist, and perhaps, curator, a sample may have a greater value than the whole. It can provide more readily accessible information (otherwise why take it?). It does not necessarily follow that the sample loses its value even if the object itself ceases to exist. In other words, the sample has a cultural value of its own.
In the Museum context, the answers to the above may radically change how the sample is handled, used, stored, or destroyed. Of course, the final decision may be a political, rather than a scientific or ethical one.
A Placement in Science and Information
I am currently studying Chemistry with a Conservation Science option at Imperial College, London. My placement with the V&A Science and Information Section began in June 1999. Since that time I have been involved in a number of projects and areas of research within the section.
The main topic was vibration and shock monitoring, looking predominantly at the potential effects of transporting objects in museum hand carry cases. In order to study these effects, ShockLog®1 vibration recorders were used. These showed the acceleration that would be experienced by an object when carried on a variety of different modes of transport or when being dropped. Further work in this area is planned, including vibration monitoring during construction work at the British Museum.
Another project was dust-monitoring of the Raphael Cartoons, as requested for the British Galleries Project. On a weekly basis glass slide deposit gauges were placed on the interior and exterior of selected display cases. The slides were then passed to Queen Mary & Westfield College for analysis. Further tasks included working with IRUG (Infra-Red Users Group) and assisting other members of the section with materials testing procedures.
Conservation Scientists' Group Meeting
The latest meeting of this informal group was held at De Montfort University, Leicester, on 15 September 1999. It was hosted by the Chemistry Department which offers Conservation Science courses so the theme was, appropriately, 'Training in Conservation Science'. Discussion about what conservation science consists of and who is entitled to call themselves a conservation scientist was lively, but mercifully short. As Jonathan Ashley-Smith pointed out, members of the Group know who they are and what they do so we need not get too bogged down by rigid definitions. It was acknowledged that a wide range of knowledge and skills are needed and that it is not always helpful to concentrate on chemistry as a starting point.
Joyce Townsend from the Tate Gallery outlined the current state of play and her vision of what was needed. There was general concern about providing training for non-existent jobs, justified by the experience of a graduate of the De Montfort MSc in Conservation Science who was full of enthusiasm but had yet to secure a conservation science job. Another graduate of that course, however, had successfully taken her skills back to Mexico. On-the-job training was seen as a practical alternative to academic courses. Audrey Matthews of De Montfort University described their new distance learning courses which could fulfil this need and can lead to different levels of postgraduate qualification.
Helen Jones spoke about the activities of RCA/V&A Conservation, in particular the MSc in Chemistry with Conservation Science run in collaboration with Imperial College Chemistry Department. After only one year it is too early to judge the success of this course, but it has potential to inform and enthuse chemists about conservation, some of whom may go on to careers in this small, specialist field.