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Tru Vue Blog: Plastic Heritage Congress 2019

Katie O'Brien attended the Plastic Heritage Congress 2019: ‘History, Limits and Possibilities’ conference held in Lisbon, Portugal 29th – 31st May 2019 along with her colleague Charlotte Marriott.  Read on to hear about her experiences and what she has taken away from this conference.


katieobrien.jpg​Charlotte and I presented a paper on researching the plastics in the surgical collections at IWM. Aptly named “Put a plaster on it” our paper shared early results from the ongoing survey, which aimed to identify polymers, catalogue the condition of items and identify characteristic polymeric degradation. This information will ultimately inform conservation policies concerning care, treatment and storage of plastics within the IWM.

Working at the IWM for 15 years, I have had the opportunity to work with a wide range of material types and composite items. My interest in the conservation of plastics began following a request to remove an object from display that was clearly degrading (see image of EPH 9962).  As the conservation department at IWM was relatively new at the time, our shared knowledge of plastics was limited, but to develop this I have undertaken research, training and collaborated with new colleagues at the IWM and also those in other institutions such as the Museum of London and V&A. Charlotte had recently returned from an identification and conservation of plastics course and so together we designed a project that could survey plastics in the collection. The IWM has recently acquired FTIR scanner, which proved an invaluable analytic technique.

EPH 9962

The conference in Lisbon was beneficial in so many ways. Not only was it a wonderful opportunity to present a paper at an international conference (for the first time ever!) but enabled me to meet many like-minded colleagues.  I learnt some specific new ideas and practices, for example cleaning with Nanogels, as presented by Yvonne Shashoua et al.  A fascinating talk from Chu et al was about the plastic used in archives as storage materials, and their advantages and disadvantages in their short and long term use. One clear theme from several of the papers was that whist scientific equipment is more accurate and specific, it is possible to identify polymers without the use of scientific equipment. With practice, these methods can provide accurate results and offer a non-invasive and affordable option for conservation studios. 

Since returning from the conference, I have I informed my colleagues at the IWM about the most relevant papers. The information gathered in our research and that of other conservators is contributing towards a training programme of plastics identification for staff and volunteers. We hope to be trained to use the ID tool kit developed by de Groot et al when their fantastic project goes live and to using the nanogels.

Thank you to Tru Vue for supporting this professional development opportunity and enabling us to share our research to an international audience.



The latest round of Tru Vue funding is now open to applicants, please visit the Icon Grants pages for further information. 

All images: Katie O'Brien ACR


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