Conservation Science at the V&A

Our Conservation Science laboratory specialises in the analysis and technical examination of works of art and cultural heritage objects. It supports conservators, curators, and researchers in collection-based research, the study and understanding of museum objects, and also assists in their dating, authentication and provenancing.

We collaborate with our counterparts in other institutions worldwide, and share our knowledge and expertise with smaller institutions without access to in-house scientists and scientific infrastructure.

Equipment

Equipment

In our refurbished laboratory we have access to a wide range of techniques:

Digital microscopy

We have three digital microscopes used for the non-destructive inspection, imaging and measurement of our objects. These include:

  • Hirox HRX-01 benchtop microscope (for relatively small objects)
  • Hirox HRX-01 on a portable flexible arm (for large, three-dimensional objects)
  • Hirox HRX-01 on a portable T-stand (for flat, mostly two-dimensional objects)

Magnification range: x5 to x2500.

FTIR microscopy

The Thermo Nicolet iS10 FTIR spectrometer is used for the analysis of organic and polymeric materials, including plastics and modern materials.

IR reflectography camera

Our Apollo camera visualises underdrawings, pentimenti (an earlier painting layer) and additions to painted surfaces of the objects. We also have a macro lens and a range of filters.

Microfadeometer

Our microfadeometer probes and measures colour changes in objects to evaluate if they are sensitive to light exposure, and informs decisions on storage and display.

Polarised light microscopy

We have a range of PLM microscopes which can be used for the investigation of paint cross sections, fibre and wood ID and other similar applications. These include:

  • State-of-the-art Zeiss microscope with visible and UV illumination
  • Aristomet Leica microscope with visible light
  • Leica Laborlux microscope with 365nm UV light and 460nm far blue light

Raman microscopy

The Horiba XploRA microscope is equipped with a green 532nm laser, a red 638nm laser, and a far-red 785nm laser. It is mostly used for the analysis of pigments, gemstones, semi-precious stones, corrosion products, polymers and other organic and inorganic materials.

Tabletop SEM-EDX

We have a TM4000 Plus SEM-EDX tabletop microscope which observes the fine structure of sample surfaces and investigates their elemental composition.

Thermal camera

We use our FLIR thermal camera to map insulation of our buildings, and to detect water leaks and heat loss.

UV-vis-nIR + bespoke macrofadeometer

Our UV-vis-nIR spectrometer is used to investigate materials around the museum by characterising their optical properties. It is usually applied to the investigation of pigments and dyes, and their change over time.

Videoscope

Our Olympus IPLEX videoscope is used to investigate the nooks and crannies of our objects, e.g. the inside of bronze sculptures or of vases and other vessels.

X-radiography

We have a 320 KV X-radiography tube which investigates the structure of objects, from textiles and furniture to bronze sculptures.

Micro-XRF

Our Bruker Artax micro-XRF spectrometer has a spatial resolution of less than 100mm and can be used for the elemental analysis of objects from manuscripts and ceramics, to jewellery and metal sculptures.

Scanning XRF

We have a Bruker M6 Jetstream which can be used for the elemental mapping of relatively flat surfaces.

Handheld XRF

Our Bruker Titan handheld XRF is used for the analysis of items on the go – in the galleries, conservation studios or storage locations.

Working with us

Working with us

We provide opportunities for external researchers to pursue the investigation of heritage science topics at our Conservation Science laboratory, with access to our collections and expert staff. We are open to independent researchers, as well as collaborations and secondments with other institutions and academic partners.

Researchers can:

  • Join ongoing research projects initiated by the V&A
  • Propose independent research projects initiated by the external researcher, which involve V&A collections and/or V&A scientific equipment and expertise.

Expressions of interest

Expressions of interest are evaluated biannually in January and July, but can be submitted all year round. We welcome applications from scientists, researchers and practitioners with expertise in heritage science, conservation science, conservation and related disciplines. Applicants are expected to be able to work independently or after minimal training in the use of our equipment.

We work with successful applicants in exploring funding opportunities, developing their research proposals, and engaging with our wide network of institutional and academic partners.

Open projects

We currently have no open projects. Please check back soon.

How to apply

Write to us at conweb@vam.ac.uk with:

  • Your CV, including publications
  • If applying for an existing V&A project, include a motivation letter up (1000 words max), setting out your field of research and how you can contribute to the project
  • If applying for an independent research opportunity, include a research proposal (1000 words max), setting out your field of research, its relevance to V&A collections and strategic objectives, and your preliminary schedule of work.
Science conservation studio with white desks and blue flooring. A sign on the left warns of ionising radiation.
Science conservation studio. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Find out more about Conservation at the V&A.

Header image: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London