Cultural heritage is the legacy of human history as each generation creates new objects and curates those objects passed down to it. These objects may be ephemeral, and even durable objects may suffer damage from use, storage or display. Conservation aims to preserve these objects and their cultural value for future generations. 

Close-up of an oriental lacquer object showing surface cracks, plus flaking which reveals the underlying foundation layers (image credit: Dr. Judith Thei).

The conservation of cultural heritage can be challenging. The objects range from small personal items to buildings, and may be made from organic, polymeric ceramic or metallic materials. Many older objects will have undergone multiple (often unsuitable) conservation treatments, so successful conservation requires careful consideration and interdisciplinary working at the interfaces between science, engineering, design, art and cultural heritage.  

A group of researchers and conservators are united to evaluate current technologies and investigate new solutions to conserve objects. Their aim is to achieve sustainable and reversible treatments, e.g. for cleaning, coating or adhering for repair. The solutions involve and applying advanced imaging or analysis techniques to understand the problems. Computational simulation and cutting-edge engineering technologies can identify new techniques such as smart interfaces and resoluble coatings. This will generate practical solutions which can be applied readily by conservators to preserve our shared cultural heritage.  

A Science and Engineering Research for Cultural Heritage (SERCH) Network has been set up to grow and integrate the team. 

Research champion

Ambrose TaylorAmbrose Taylor

Ambrose is a Reader in Materials Engineering in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and is the leader of the ‘Nanomaterials’ group which specialises in the characterisation and modelling of particle-modified thermoset polymers. He has researched the impact and durability performance of rubber-toughened structural epoxy adhesives, and quantitatively predicted the lifetime of adhesive joints in fatigue.

His current work is investigating the structure/property relationship of thermoset/inorganic hybrids, using epoxy, acrylic and cyanate ester polymers. He also has interests in using other nanomodifiers (e.g. layered silicates, carbon nanotubes and silica nanoparticles) as tougheners for thermosets. He is also investigating the microstructure and properties of epoxy adhesives modified with combinations of micro- and nanoparticles. The applications of these materials include structural adhesives, coatings and as the matrices of fibre-composite materials. He has held a prestigious Royal Academy of Engineering Post-doctoral Research Fellowship and a Royal Society Mercer Award for Innovation.