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Science Museum Group

With 7.3 million items in the Science Museum Group collection, our dedicated team of conservators have a busy programme of preservation work to look after the millions of items we care for.

Our conservation work includes:

  • treatments to stabilise the condition of an item;
  • preparing items for display in our museums or for loans;
  • assessing the condition of new items added to the collection;
  • pest management to protect our collection;
  • monitoring of heat, light and pollution to minimise their impact on the items we care for.

The collection includes many different types of materials, often together in the same item, so our conservation team work with metals, plastics, paper, books, art (of all shapes and sizes) and working objects too.

Everything from Roman ceramic votives to intricate orrerys and modern spacesuits are brought into our laboratories to be cared for.

Recent conservation projects

Putting the Power Hall “to bed”

The Power Hall at Science and Industry Museum is normally the beating heart of the museum. With its working historic engines, visitors have enjoyed experiencing the sight, sound and smell of the working engines that used to power industries and mills in the North-West.

The Power Hall at the Science and Industry Museum
The Power Hall at Science and Industry Museum

It is not just the engines that have a history, the building itself has a past life as a shipping shed and is a listed building. Due to the age of the building, it will be undergoing some restoration work, but before this could be started it was important to make sure all the historic objects inside were safe. Given the size and weight of the objects, the Conservation team opted to remove any smaller objects from the gallery for safe storage but protect the larger engines in-situ.

Thorough condition checks and photographs were taken of the objects before putting them to bed. This ensures the team have a gauge of the condition of everything now to compare against when the engines are finally unwrapped after the building work. The engines were then cleaned and a protective coating applied to prevent any corrosion whilst not in use. Finally, they were wrapped and protective tents created around them.

A wooden crash-deck was also constructed above the gallery for protection and a temporary roof built whilst building work is on-going. It will be exciting to have the engines running again soon!

Conservation Science

The Conservation and Collections Care team received a new piece of equipment in November when a microfadometer was delivered to our conservation laboratory at the National Collections Centre. This apparatus is used to help assess the stability of an object’s surface and interpret how long an item can be on display before noticeably fading.

A conservator using a microfadometer to asses the condition of a medical illustration.
Using the microfadometer.

The microfadometer shines a very small, intense beam of light onto the surface of an object, the tested area is not noticeable to the naked eye. The equipment uses the light reflected from the surface to establish how much fading has been caused by the beam of light. Testing may be required on several areas when an object has different surface finishes such as various pigments or dyes.

After training on how to operate the equipment and interpret the results, the microfadometer has been used by the team to assess the stability of some items which will go on display in the Science Museum’s new Medicine Galleries.

Rocket returns

After months of preparation, Stephenson’s Rocket left the Science Museum for the first time in almost 20 years in June 2018.

This 5 tonne locomotive has headed north on a tour, first visiting the Discovery Museum in Newcastle (the city in which Rocket was built) as part of the Great Exhibition of the North and now having joined other legends of the steam age on long-term display at the National Railway Museum in York.

A man in a white coat cleaning the front of Stephenson's Rocket
Science Museum Conservator Richard Horton preparing for the transportation of Stephenson’s Rocket. Rocket is being loaned to Newcastle Discovery Museum for the Great Exhibition of the North 2018.

Not many museum objects need a bespoke tailored protective jacket and several large pieces of lifting equipment to be moved safely, but Rocket did.

The conservation team ensured Rocket was not damaged during its journey, carefully removing its chimney (and replacing all 18 unique nuts and bolts), checking it was ready to move and supervising all lifting of the locomotive

To the Moon and back by train

As just one of many trains we care for, 2HAP seems unremarkable at first. Yet this is the most travelled railway carriage in the Science Museum Group collection, having covered five times the distance to the Moon and back while it carried London commuters between 1957 and 1997.

A man stands on a ladder at the front of a railway carriage painting it yellow
Restoration work taking place on the Network South London Class 414 2 HAP electric multiple unit

The restoration of 2HAP is underway in the restoration workshop at Locomotion with the help of the volunteer Project Commuter team. Once completed, 2HAP will go on public display.

This restoration work is an example of returning an item in the collection to an earlier appearance. We only do this in special circumstances when our curators judge that the appearance or function of the item is more important than preserving the item in the condition it joined our collection.

Soyuz TMA-19M Parachute

In 2019, after it completed its tour, the parachute was sent to our National Collections Centre where the Conservation team assessed its condition. Using a one tonne gantry, it was lifted it from the top vent using a lifting ring. By moving the gantry from one end of the lab to the other, the canopy was spread out so that all areas could be inspected for any damage such as tears, rips, holes, abrasions, stains and discolouration.

The Soyuz TMA-19M craft parachute being inspected for damage
The Soyuz TMA-19M craft parachute being inspected for damage

There was surprisingly little damage overall, despite the parachute being used for more than one descent from space, with just a few tears and small holes. Repair patches showed it had been reused. All damage was mapped to photographs of the parachute so any new damage can be identified in the future.

Three days later, the parachute was installed in the Exploring Space Gallery in the Science Museum, hung above the Soyuz capsule which had also been inspected by our team, and having had its touring dust brushed (gently) off.

More about our work

You can read about more about our conservation work on our museum blogs: