Tag Archives: innovation

Making archives work for research

The European Research Infrastructure for Heritage Science, E-RIHS [ˈīris], is working to launch DIGILAB: the new data and service infrastructure for the heritage science research community.  The DIGILAB platform will provide remote services to the heritage science research community but will also be relevant to and accessible by professionals, practitioners and heritage managers. DIGILAB will enable access to research information as well as to general documentation of analyses, conservation, restoration and any other kind of relevant information about heritage research and background references, such as controlled vocabularies, authority lists and virtual reference collections. For more details about DIGILAB see here.

By safeguarding information and enabling access to it, archives provide an indispensable component of the digital ecosystem of cultural heritage. As current archival approaches are quite fragmented, there is a critical need for an overarching methodology addressing business and operational issues, and technical solutions for ingest, preservation and re-use. One of our partners, the University of Brighton’s Cultural Informatics Research and Enterprise Group, has developed an extensive expertise in the area of digital preservation. In particular, the team has an established reputation for work in the curation and preservation of complex objects such as 3D renditions of cultural artefacts, as well as in data warehousing, database archiving, and data mining. With this background in coordination and dissemination, the team took a leading role in E-ARK, working on piloting a pan-European methodology for electronic document archiving.

Between 2014 – 2017, the Group coordinated a consortium of 17 partners from the UK, Slovenia, Denmark, Germany, Spain, Estonia and others. As part of the E-ARK (European Archival Records and Knowledge Preservation) consortium, the group worked to synthesise existing national and international best practices to keep records and databases authentic and usable over time. The project results fed into building an archival infrastructure across the EU and in environments where different legal systems and records management traditions apply. E-ARK has also demonstrated the potential benefits for public administrations, public agencies, public services, citizens and business by providing simple, efficient access to the workflows for the three main activities of an archive – acquiring, preserving and enabling re-use of information. The E-ARK open source, digital archiving framework, complete with accompanying metadata and other standards, has been thoroughly tested and has made a significant impact on the institutions who carried out the pilots: this has been assessed by carrying out semi-structured interviews at the pilot sites based on a detailed impact questionnaire. The results improved public awareness and allow web-based access to tools. The project worked to make archival processes open to re-evaluation, and to enhance the preservation and visualisation of archives. The expertise of University of Brighton’s Cultural Informatics Research and Enterprise Group as well as other UK partners, from the Archaeology Data Service to the National Gallery, will contribute to the construction of the DIGILAB and its services for new communities of users.

About the Cultural Informatics Research and Enterprise Group

The Group’s research focuses on technical areas, including 3D digitisation technologies, virtual environments, archives and collections management systems, web and museum based interactive applications and language technologies; and non-technical areas, including testing, economic and social impact evaluation in support of the development of the cultural heritage sector and its opportunities in tourism, entertainment and education.

As an expert in international project management, the group is a leader of the E-RIHS Risk Management Framework to design, implement, monitor and improve risk management consistently and efficiently across all aspects of the research infrastructure’s activities. It will enable a Corporate Risk Management function to be embedded in the structure and support audit activities.


Tailoring scientific equipment at ISAAC is improving art historical research

E-RIHS UK partners often design and build bespoke machines and scientific instruments for use in galleries, museums and heritage sites. Based at Nottingham Trent University, ISAAC has been innovating scientific instruments and applying its expertise to solving conservation, art history and archaeology problems across the globe. The laboratory is unique in developing advanced non-invasive imaging systems that are not only novel in optical and remote sensing instrumentation but also novel in applications to the museum and cultural heritage sector.

Among the technique innovation offered by the laboratory, ISAAC has been working on the improvements in Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT). OCT involves fast, non-invasive, non-contact, microscopic imaging of subsurface cross-section and 3D tomography. This imaging method, originally designed for biomedical applications such as in vivo examination of the eye, facilitates non-invasive 3D imaging of subsurface microstructure. As the original OCTs have been optimised for medical use, ISAAC has been researching ways of improving its capabilities for use in the heritage sector.

During instrumentation innovation projects, funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the Arts and Humanities Science and Heritage Programme, ISAAC built and tested prototype OCT systems to generate ‘virtual’ cross-sections of paintings and heritage objects. To this end, the laboratory has worked with heritage partners such as the National Gallery and English Heritage to increase the depth resolution and the probing depth of the instruments. The improved OCT technique enabled in-depth images of artist’s preliminary sketches and underdrawings. It also facilitated a detailed examination of the painting surfaces, and the distribution of the remains of old varnishes. The innovation has reduced the need for sampling and enable the subsurface microstructure to be imaged on intact objects where sampling was not possible. It has also encouraged more frequent and thorough examination of the whole object for early warning of deterioration. For Carolyn Allen from the Leverhulme Trust, developing an instrument that “‘sees through’ layers of paint and varnish, revealing previously hidden levels of detail about paintings and other historical artefacts”.

Bespoke OCT is a powerful imaging tool for heritage institutions. It helps to inform conservation strategy and create long-term savings in the cost of conservation through monitoring degree of deterioration. It also enables the scientists to explore new problems in conservation and art history that the next generation OCT can help to solve. According to Dr Liang, as ISAAC has established Optical Coherence Tomography as a new field of heritage science, the laboratory has been deploying the technique for new user communities:

“We now have a much more enthusiastic response from the conservation community and even private conservators contact us wanting to have access to this type of instrument”.

The ISAAC team has used their bespoke equipment on a variety of projects such as the influential studies of manufacturing techniques of the Limoges enamel and ancient Egyptian Faience at the British Museum or wall paintings at the Tower of London.

Currently, ISAAC is equipped with a range of in-house developed OCT systems that could be used not only in research on underdrawings, but also studies involving the detection of delamination of internal layers and monitoring of varnish removal and glass deterioration. Recently, the team has extended the application of OCT to a variety of industrial and biomedical problems. The laboratory and research group is continuously collaborating with other E-RIHS partners in research and innovation in multiple heritage science applications.


The Imaging & Sensing for Archaeology, Art History & Conservation laboratory (ISAAC) has been applying cutting-edge science to cultural heritage challenges for over twelve years. The laboratory focuses on applications of scientific techniques and works in collaboration with conservation scientists, conservators, archaeologists, archaeological scientists and art historians and curators. Previous collaborations included partners in the heritage sector in the UK, Europe, China, and USA.

The laboratory uses a wide range of instruments, including:

  • Spectral imaging systems
  • Fibre optic reflectance spectrometer (FORS)
  • Portable X-ray Fluorescence (XRF) spectrometer
  • Compact Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectrometer
  • Raman Spectrometer
  • Microfade spectrometry
  • Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) systems
  • Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) Mouse

More information:

ISAAC research group
Selection of ISAAC projects