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Conserve It! Getting Started

By Nick J Booth, on 5 February 2013

This is the first in a series of blogs written by conservation students working on objects from UCL’s Medical Physics Collection. Over the the next few months the students will keep us updated on their progress. This initial blog was lead authored by Katherine LM Becker.

On December 13, students from UCL’s MSc in Conservation for Archaeology and Museums, their course co-ordinator – Dean Sully, the UCL Collections Senior Conservator – Susi Pancaldo, and UCL Museums curator – Nick Booth, met to discuss a new project!

Kate Becker and Miriam Orsini get their first view of the objects.
(Photo by Leslie Stephens)

During relocation of the Medical Physics Department’s collection, Nick Booth encountered four objects in need of conservation and, through Susi Pancaldo, was able to bring the objects to the conservation lab to be treated as part of student portfolios! Four students elected to participate in the project: Katherine Becker, Miriam Orsini, Leslie Stephens, and Louise Stewart. Together, we hope to gain new experiences and challenge ourselves with potentially complex glass reconstructions. From the beginning we thought that the best approach to the project would be for each student to be responsible for one object, but for us all to work as a group in problem solving and to make cohesive decisions.

On December 13, Nick introduced us to the material! The four objects are (or were originally thought to be!) various types of X-Ray tubes and each had been broken in recent history. Nick brought the objects to the lab in their original packaging to better ensure that all associated pieces would be kept with the objects. Upon opening the cases, we caught our first glimpse of the project:

Two of the objects nestled in acid-free tissue inside a storage crate.
(Photo by Leslie Stephens)

Our first action was to carefully sort out the sherds of glass so as to create four distinct objects. Next, we began a preliminary ‘dry’ reconstruction in order to understand the current condition of the objects. This helped us to anticipate the interventions required and allowed us to have a more informed discussion of our plans with Nick.

‘X-Ray Tube’ following preliminary reconstruction
(Photo by author)


This process was one step in the initial phase of conservation: ‘Visual Examination’. Next, we needed to begin ‘Assessment of Significance and Documentation’. For this process, we each began to individually research our objects using the Internet and library as resources. We also arranged a meeting with Nick to see similar objects in the collections and tour the storage facilities.

After seeing more of the collection, we were able to better understand the current and future use of the objects. This, plus an understanding of their original function, helped us to begin to understand the significance and value of the X-Ray Tubes. This is an essential step in the conservation process, as all treatments should consider and respect the object’s meaning.

Leslie Stephens, Louise Stewart,
and Miriam Orsini examining
similar objects.

Miriam Orsini and Leslie Stephens
reading documentation
(Photos by author)










It is essential that we (conservators) fully document the object and its condition. Therefore, we take high quality ‘Before Treatment’ photos of each piece before beginning any work. At the Institute of Archaeology, we are fortunate to have access to a professional studio equipped to handle all of the challenges presented by photographing objects. In this case in particular, we had many challenges to overcome. This is because photographing glass is notoriously difficult, as there are often reflections, shadows, and colour casts. In order to avoid these, Stuart Laidlow (IoA photographer) helped us to devise the following setup:  

Photograph looking down into the tent.
(Photos by author)

Katherine Becker photographing
the X-Ray tube









We each used slightly different set-ups to arrive at these final products:

Before treatment picture of one of the four ‘X-Ray Tubes’
(Photo by Miriam Orsini)

The next stage in documentation involved various forms of investigative research, including X-Radiography, and X-Ray Fluorescence. These will be discussed in the next ‘Conserve It!’ blog post.



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