A week in the life of a V&A heritage scientist – intro


Conservation Science
April 3, 2019

Did you know that most UK National Museums have a dedicated team of heritage scientists who take care of the collections? The V&A is no exception, and I am one of those lucky scientists. Regardless of my official job title (‘Senior Object Analysis Scientist’, a bit of a mouthful), I am known as ‘the analyst’, sometimes as ‘the microscopist’, or occasionally simply as ‘the scientist’.

Museum E.R.: this is how a friend saw me at the beginning of my career
Museum E.R. – this is how a friend saw me at the beginning of my career

Science has a pivotal role across so many functions of the museum, which is why the V&A has a Science Section, a multidisciplinary team made of scientists and a conservator. Among many other things, we deal with conservation and collection-based research and analysis (that’s me), but also with various aspects of the actual building, its performance and climate (mainly covered by our Environmental Scientist).

Climate Scientist working with Ocean, the V&A environmental monitoring system © Victoria and Albert Museum
Working with Ocean, the V&A environmental monitoring system © Victoria and Albert Museum

We have a specialist in modern materials (our Polymer Scientist), we provide integrated pest management (our Preventive Conservator), and deal with sustainability, energy and efficiency (the material scientist, who is also Head of Science).

Polymer scientist at work © Victoria and Albert Museum
Polymer scientist at work © Victoria and Albert Museum
Our preventive conservator deals with these and other museum pests © Victoria and Albert Museum
Our preventive conservator deals with these and other museum pests © Victoria and Albert Museum

Back to my role now: what do I do? You could call it museum forensics, or CSI: V&A. I examine and analyse museum objects, and find out how, when, where they were made, and much more. Once you realise that the V&A has officially 2.3 million objects you won’t be surprised to know that that my ‘to do’ list never ends. It’s my personal agony and ecstasy: my job is relentless, and anything but boring, but every day is different and gives me the opportunity to work with wonderful objects, and touch our history and our past with my bare (well, they are actually suitably gloved) hands.

A micromosaic box (LOAN:GILBERT.924-2008) © Victoria and Albert Museum
A micromosaic box (LOAN:GILBERT.924-2008) © Victoria and Albert Museum

I would like to show you the unpredictable and extraordinary nature of my job and the wide range of objects and issues I get to deal with: in my next posts I will ask you to accompany me through a week of work in the V&A Science Section.

About the author

Conservation Science
April 3, 2019

Dr Lucia Burgio is Senior Scientist (Object Analysis) at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. She graduated in Chemistry summa cum laude from the University of Palermo, Italy and completed...

More from Lucia Burgio
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