CHRONO: Institute for Heritage and Environmental Science

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University Belfast
Department Name: Sch of Natural and Built Environment


Queen's University Belfast has a distinguished history as a world leader in enhancing understandings of the human past and heritage through leading edge scientific techniques. This includes pioneering dating and analytical science through the flagship 14CHRONO Centre established in 2003, which has provided analytical capacities fundamental to research, the wider heritage sector and collections-based infrastructure of Northern Ireland, Britain and across the Island of Ireland. Funding is sought for a major upgrade of 14CHRONO to provide a new, state-of-the-art facility: 14CHRONO: Institute for Heritage and Environmental Science. This new facility will be a global leader in dating and isotopic analysis, and as an all-island facility, provide much needed conservation infrastructure and analytical capacities for collections-focused research in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

This proposal is supported by the Historic Environment Divison (NI Department for Communities), National Museums Northern Ireland and the National Museum of Ireland. NMNI lack RO/IRO status, and hence, are unable to apply for funding from many research councils or capital schemes. As a result, Queen's University Belfast has long provided the analytical capacities and laboratory needs for the museums and wider heritage sector in Northern Ireland, with 14CHRONO constituting a regional hub, and previously housing a conservation laboratory shared with the Ulster Museum. This application seeks to harness these cross-sectoral collaborative partnerships and the long-standing reputation as a world-leading facility, to realise a new state-of-the-art institute for heritage and environmental science. Reflecting the strategic priority of this application for creating a regional hub for Northern Ireland, this application is accompanied by a contribution by Queen's University Belfast of £189,840 towards estates costs, and £1,944,258 towards equipment costs, with the aim of securing a further £3m to realise the new facility.

Equipment needed entails a new Accelerated Mass Spectrometer with gas interface, two IRMS, a Triple Quad ICP-MS interfaced with Laser Ablation and Ion Chromatography, alpha counters for 210Pb dating, a Fourier-Transform Infrared Spectrometer, an Electron Probe Micro Analyser, a bench-top Helium Purge Micro-XRF complemented by portable handheld XRF and an ELIO Micro-XRF mapper; and a large chamber and sensor X-Ray machine. Together this equipment provides state-of-the-art techniques in dating, isotopic analysis, elemental analysis and conservation, complemented by an established technical team in post. This will be unique in the UK, a hub for the Northern Ireland heritage sector, and the first all-island facility with complete dating, isotopic and combined conservation laboratories.

14CHRONO's track-record as a self-sustaining facility ensures a comprehensive long-term sustainability and management strategy that will be transformative for the heritage sector of Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. This facility will be established with a commitment to providing up to 20% of laboratory time and samples for free or at cost to support key heritage stakeholders across Northern Ireland. Continuing 14CHRONO's long-standing record as a major facility that attracts researchers from across the globe, through the realisation of this facility, this grant addresses a structural inequality and lacunae in the heritage sector of Northern Ireland, while enabling the strategic need for a major upgrade and replacement of the ageing equipment in the existing facility.


10 25 50
Description The award funded a major laboratory upgrade and replacement of equipment to create the Institute for Heritage and Environmental Science. This has now been successfully completed, with the facility providing an all-island facility for conservation and heritage science on the island of Ireland and farther afield. All equipment has been commissioned and is operational, with training completed for staff and project stakeholders. This has allowed project partners to access conservation equipment and facilities that they did not previously have an ability to avail of, including to address conservation dilemmas for major collections; for example, ongoing conservation of the Spanish Armada collection held by NMNI. Stakeholder engagement events and workshops have also delivered non-academic impacts by engaging stakeholders from across the wider heritage and conservation sector to highlight access and potentials for use that will have ongoing impacts.
First Year Of Impact 2023
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

Description Historic Environment Division Northern Ireland 
Organisation Northern Ireland Environment Agency
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Provide access to post excavation analysis and conservation facility for HED works and collections research
Collaborator Contribution Access to collections and archives held by HED for research.
Impact Analysis of excavation assemblage and x-ray of metalwork from emergency excavations.
Start Year 2022
Description National Museums Northern Ireland access for conservation and research 
Organisation National Museums Northern Ireland
Department Ulster Museum
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution This award provides an all-island and open access facility for researchers and practitioners in conservation and heritage science. It was supported specifically by a range of project partners, including the National Museums Northern Ireland, who have gained direct access to expertise and facilities. This has included use of equipment for major conservation programmes and research to date.
Collaborator Contribution Partners have provided access to their collections and assistance in making conservation decisions and stakeholder planning.
Impact Analysis of collections for conservation decisions, e.g. Spanish Armada
Start Year 2022
Description Discovery Conference Northern Ireland 2022 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This was a presentation on the CapCo award and new facility for the Discovery Conference Northern Ireland in 2022, where professional practitioners and stakeholders from across the sector in NI report on and share ideas from ongoing and new work. The team presented on the new facility, its capacities and opportunities for collaboration and access.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
Description Heritage HUB @ QUB Stakeholder event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This was a workshop and engagement event for stakeholders from across the heritage sector in Northern Ireland, outlining the work of the Heritage HUB and the role of the Institute for Heritage and Environmental Science. This included charitable trusts, statutory organisations, professional practitioners and other stakeholders around Northern Ireland. The role of the Institute relative to three themes was discussed: Heritage in Practice; Heritage and Well-being; and Heritage at Risk.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022