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September 18th, 2007
History and not chemistry springs to mind when most people think of museums. How big a role does chemistry play at the British Museum?
Chemistry is involved in two aspects of the museums activities. Firstly, it is used in the preservation and restoration of the collections. Secondly, through the chemical analysis of the objects, we bring another aspect into their interpretation that augments the history side. We can shed light on how objects were made, what they're made of and how cultures have changed, developed and traded. Increasingly we're finding the public are engaged by this type of information.
However, chemistry is obviously only one of the sciences that we use. At the beginning of the 20th century, many people involved in the study of museum objects were physicists. As the 20th century progressed, chemistry became more and more important, especially for the understanding of deterioration processes, but I think it has now broadened out again. We use many different scientific disciplines, including some of the newer ones like nanotechnology.
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