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Voice of the Future: Early career scientists get to question MPs

On the morning on the second meaningful vote of the Brexit deal, I had the opportunity to go to Parliament to take part in an event run by the Royal Society of Biology where early career scientist were able to question MPs and senior politicians about the state of science and research.

I was there representing The Geological Society and am grateful to them for allowing me this opportunity. I wanted to attend the event to see how politicians view science and how politics can affect how science is undertaken. Also, given the uncertainties surrounding research funding post-Brexit I was keen to find out if there were any reassurances that MPs could provide.

After clearing security, walking through Westminster Palace and past the Houses of Commons and Lords, we were seated in a grand committee room. The event opened with John Bercow and then went straight into the first of four question sessions. Pre-submitted questions were asked by representatives from the royal societies and answered mainly by MPs or senior politicians sitting on the Science and Technology Committee.

It was interesting to see how party politics, and the vote on the Brexit deal that evening, played into how the panel answered questions with some obvious disagreements emerging between parties: Conservatives trying to put a positive spin on questions while other parties were more critical. Whilst it is reassuring to know that some MPs and politicians take science and research seriously, it was disappointing to hear the lack of arrangements made of funding in a post-Brexit UK and how seemingly nothing is being done to address the precarity of early career researchers on short term contracts.

This experience was very valuable to understand how science and politics interact but also to show how far we are from having scientific research undertaken on global issues, such as climate change, being fully enacted upon by our government.

Jenny Richards is a SEAHA student based at the School of Geography and the Environment in the University of Oxford. Her research aims to address the fact that there is little consensus and a lack of long term research for earthen heritage conservation, with some conservation strategies even increasing the rate of degradation. Using fieldwork at the ancient city of Suoyang, located on the Silk Road in North West China, she is investigating the relationship between patterns of degradation and microclimatic and environmental conditions.

Angewandte Chemie issue & editorial on Heritage Science

Prestigious chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie has published a special virtual issue on heritage science, featuring numerous contributions from both SEAHA staff and students.

SEAHA deputy directory Prof Matija Strlic opens the issue with an editorial on the definition and future of the cross-disciplinary field, showing not only its deep routes in chemistry but also other physical and engineering sciences. Exploring the key facets of the discipline, Strlic outlines the outward-facing nature of heritage science, its impact beyond the domains of engineering and science, and the deeply social purpose of the field in its contribution to human understanding of identity and place. Furthermore, Strlic sees two broader challenges emerging from the journal’s articles, first understanding heritage ecologies and secondly the need to develop networked heritage ecosystems. The contributions will surely promote much discussion on both.

As a hub for the heritage science field, SEAHA is well represented in the issue. Student Hayley Simon authored a paper on her work with heritage partner the Mary Rose Trust, ‘A Synchrotron-Based Study of the Mary Rose Iron Cannonballs‘, and Laura Arcidiacono, also a student of the centre, was co-author on the paper ‘Egyptian Grave Goods of Kha and Merit studied by Neutron and Gamma Techniques‘.

Institute of Sustainable Heritage (ISH) alumna Rosie Brigham also published her work ‘Crowdsourcing as an Analytical Method: Metrology of Smartphone Measurements in Heritage Science‘ alongside co-author SEAHA supervisor Dr Josep Grau-Bove.

Lastly, SEAHA supervisor and ISH lecturer Dr Katherine Curran was first author on the paper ‘Classifying Degraded Modern Polymeric Museum Artefacts by Their Smell‘ which explores VOC emissions.

A landmark issue on a burgeoning field,  the Angewandte Chemie issue is a step towards an integrated definition of heritage science and undoubtedly will lead us to new and improved understandings of heritage.

Read SEAHA contributions in the virtual issue here.

Dr Kalliopi Fouseki nominated for teaching awards

SEAHA supervisor & UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage lecturer Dr Kalliopi Fouseki has been nominated for two UCL Union Student Choice awards. Nominated directly  by students, the student choice awards offer students the oportunity to thank and celebrate staff they appreciate at UCL.

Kalliopi was nominated for the Diverse and Inclusive Education Award which recognises staff who ensure the curriculum and research includes marginalised scholars and diverse perspectives, as well as the Inspiring Teaching Delivery Award for using innovative and engaging methods to hold students’ interest and help them to learn.

Commenting on her nomination, Kalliopi says:

It is a great honour to be nominated by the MSc Sustainable Heritage students for two awards related to diverse, inclusive, innovative and inspiring teaching. Our teaching is inspired by our diverse and talented student cohort and I certainly believe that our novel pedagogy is in effect shaped through the interactive and reflective dialogue and exercises that we have with our students.

Congratulations Kalliopi!

Research on using NIR spectroscopy on Tudor tapestries published in Heritage Science

UCL ISH student Nanette Kissi and SEAHA supervisor Dr Katherine Curran have published research in the journal Heritage Science studying whether Near Infrared (NIR) spectroscopy can be used to understand chemical changes in historic wool fibres from Tudor tapestries. The research was done in collaboration with Historic Royal Palaces, a SEAHA partner.

The tapestries at Hampton Court Palace were a magnificent demonstration of the Tudors’ power and prestige and are now valued as works of art and for the way in which they illuminate this fascinating period of history. The tapestries are primarily composed of wool fibres, which act both as aesthetic and structural elements. Over the centuries they have been exposed to environmental conditions such as daylight, dust and fluctuating temperature and relative humidity that can lead to chemical changes in the fibres which weaken them.

This work aimed to explore whether NIR spectroscopy could be used as a non-invasive tool to study the chemical degradation of historic wool fibres. Using Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy, evidence of changes such as the oxidation of cysteine residues in the wool proteins could be identified. However, it is very difficult to use FTIR directly on tapestries, as destructive sampling is often needed to obtain useful results. NIR spectroscopy is a promising tool for the non-invasive analysis of real historic objects as it only requires contact between the object and the fibre optic cable of the spectrometer. NIR spectroscopy has been used in the past at the UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage as a tool for the determination of paper properties such as pH.

In this work, 180 yarns from historic tapestry fragments provided by Historic Royal Palaces were analysed using FTIR spectroscopy and evidence of oxidation was assessed. NIR analysis of these fragments had already taken place as part of previous research at the UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage. A Partial Least Squares model was then built to see to what extent the chemical information found in the FTIR spectrum could be predicted from the NIR analysis.
The model was found to have a reasonable level of accuracy when tested with a validation set of historic tapestry fragments. However, translating the model to the analysis of a tapestry in-situ at Hampton Court Palace proved more challenging. The research provides a promising tool that conservators could use to identify chemically degraded wool fibres before damage becomes visible and provides some suggestions for improving the on-site analysis.

Read the paper here.

Image: Hampton Court Palace, image from

SEAHA ‘Student Engagers’ at UCL Museums

Four SEAHA students are joining the team of ‘Student Engagers’ at UCL Museums. Student Engagers are postgraduate research students at UCL who aim to broaden public engagement with research by sharing their knowledge and making connections between their own research and the collections at UCL.

Alexandra Bridarolli, Mark Kearney, Anna Pokorska and Cerys Jones will be at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, Grant Museum of Zoology, & UCL Museum of Art talking to visitors and encouraging them to think about the collections in novel and varied ways.

At the Petrie Museum, Alexandra talks about why she thinks public engagement is important:

Follow the student engagers on twitter @ResearchEngager, check our their Researchers in Museums blog here, or go and find them in one of the UCL Museums!

Image: UCL.