The Conservation And Interpretation Of Vitreous Materials In Museums Collections - A Non-Invasive Investigation

Lead Research Organisation: Nottingham Trent University
Department Name: School of Science & Technology


Optical coherence tomography (OCT) is a cutting-edge imaging technique that produces 3D images of surface and subsurface microstructure of transparent and semi-transparent materials. It is a powerful tool for the study of museum objects as it can produce images of cross-sections without contact with the object. Information on the composition of vitreous materials will also be collected using spectroscopic techniques and combined with the OCT results, thus giving an overall view of the objects in 3D. In the proposed project, you will research into an effective method of extracting and combining the structural, chemical and optical properties from the OCT and various spectroscopy data for studying manufacturing techniques and degradation processes in vitreous museum artefacts. The project will then focus on different case studies at the British Museum.

The British Museum has a collection of some 230 Limoges painted enamels. These are known to suffer from localised deterioration and this is often limited to specific colours, particularly blue, mulberry and purple. As the deterioration of Limoges enamels is poorly understood, there are currently no effective treatments for Limoges enamels. OCT investigation in 3D subsurface microstructure will allow a better understanding of the deterioration processes, which is a key step towards devising remedial conservation treatments. Another case study will involve determining the manufacturing techniques of ancient Egyptian faience. The British Museum has a large collection of ancient Egyptian Faience spanning the period from the second millennium BC to the fourth century AD. The examination of the microstructure using OCT will be used to distinguish between different manufacturing techniques.

The outcomes of this project will be of great relevance to other cultural heritage institutions holding vitreous objects in their collections.