UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage


COMPLEX Milestones

2018 has been a prolific research year for the COMPLEX project. See list of the teams activities and achievements below.

March 2018
  • The Advisory Board Meeting provided the COMPLEX team with great feedback for their research conducted in the first six months.
  • Dr Simoni Da Ros won the poster prize in the “Applications of Thermal Analysis and Calorimetry Conference / TAC 2018” in Belfast. The poster presented the innovative use of differential scanning calorimetry and dynamic mechanical analysis for determining the glass transition temperature of historic cellulose nitrate materials.
June 2018

The COMPLEX team presented significant research findings at the SEAHA Conference.

  • Dr Simoni Da Ros presented her research on moisture content determination in cellulose nitrate-based museum artefacts by using dielectric thermal analysis.
  • Dr Argyro Gili presented her work on the application of mathematical modelling techniques to investigate the diffusion of diethyl phthalate plasticiser from cellulose acetate artefacts in museums and collections.
    Argyro Gili SEAHA Conference June 2018
  • PhD student Isabella del Gaudio presented interesting findings from studying the sorption and diffusion mechanism of water vapour in cellulose nitrate and cellulose acetate. 
    Isabella del Gaudio SEAHA Conference June 2018
  • PhD student Ida Ahmad presented her work on investigating the hydrolytic degradation of cellulose acetate artefacts by using mathematical modelling techniques. 
    Ida Ahmed SEAHA Conference June 2018
July 2018
  • A long-term ageing experiment was set up by the COMPLEX team at the Museum of London and Tate. Sacrificial cellulose acetate and cellulose nitrate combs from the early 1930’s (donated by collector Jen Cruse in a variety of shapes and different states of deterioration) were placed in the museums different preservation environments, and will be monitored and recorded over a period of five years.
  • Dr Argyro Gili and PhD student Ida Ahmad attended the Gordon Research Conference “Scientific Methods for Cultural Heritage - Leading Edge Applications of Data Science, Degradation Science, and Conservation Strategies for Cultural Heritage" from the 22nd - 27th July in Castelldefels, Spain. Dr Argyro Gili presented her work on mathematical modelling of plasticiser loss from artefacts preserved in enclosures and Ida Ahmad presented her work on mathematical modelling of vinegar syndrome in cellulose acetate artefacts.
September 2018

COMPLEX was well-represented at the "IIC 2018 Turin Congress - Preventive Conservation: The State of the Art" conference. 

  • PI Dr Katherine Curran presented a poster which outlined the concept of COMPLEX entitled “A System Dynamics Approach to the Preventive Conservation of Modern Polymeric Materials in Collections”, available here

  • PhD student Isabella del Gaudio presented her research on moisture sorption in cellulose acetate. 

  • Many other ISH and SEAHA students also presented their research at this prestigious conference.

October 2018
  • The COMPLEX team took part in a survey at Tate Britain to identify material type in artefacts which are suspected to be constituted of cellulose acetate and cellulose nitrate. Senior Conservation Scientist Dr. Joyce Townsend, Conservation Manager Deborah Cane, Conservator Valeria Duplat and Conservation Scientist Dr Judith Lee from Tate Britain have worked collaboratively with the COMPLEX team to conduct a visual condition assessment of the objects.

  • PhD student Ida Ahmad presented a poster at the IIC-ITCC symposium on “Scientific Approaches to Paper and Photograph Conservation” hosted at the Palace Museum, Beijing. The poster presented simulation results obtained by mathematical modelling of cellulose acetate film undergoing degradation in different types of storage environments. Ida was awarded a generous travel scholarship from the Beishantang Foundation, based on the poster abstract submission.

Ida Ahmed IIC-ITCC Symposium October 2018
January 2019
  • The COMPLEX team receives first round of sampling and analysis for the long-term ageing experiment at Tate and the Museum of London. After exposing a set of combs and fresh samples in museum environmental conditions in different preservation environments for only 6 months deterioration signs were already detected!

February 2019
  • PhD student Isabella del Gaudio is taking part in a survey at the Museum of London in collaboration with Abby Moore, Collection Care Conservator to identify historic plastic in real museum objects."
  • The COMPLEX team in collaboration with SEAHA PhD students participates at a survey at Tate identifying the types of historic plastic in components of an artwork consisting of plastic dolls.  Identification has successfully revealed different types of plastic material in different dolls and has also noted severe signs of deterioration in some cases.


April 2019

The COMPLEX team has successfully gone through their second Advisory Board Meeting with inspiring research findings over the last year presented to a panel of Academics and Professionals in Science and Conservation. The advisory panel is constituted of Prof. Norman Billingham Professor of Chemistry at University of Brighton, Dr. Robert Bowles Senior Lecturer at the Department of Mathematics, Professor Susan Lambert Head of Museum of Design in Plastics, Dr. Yvonne Shashoua Senior Research Scientist in Modern Materials at the National Museum of Denmark, Prof. Matija Strlič Professor of Heritage Science from the Institute for Sustainable Heritage, Prof. Caroline van Eck Professor of Art History from the University of Cambridge and Ms. Louise Wright Principal Research Scientist from the National Physical Laboratory specialising in modelling work. Presentations were followed by an enlightening panel discussion which provided very good feedback for present findings and useful suggestions for future research work.

May 2019

COMPLEX participates with great success at The Plastics Heritage Congress 2019 in Lisbon. 

  • PI Dr Katherine Curran and PhD student Ida Ahmad present their work on “A System Dynamics Approach to Modelling Degradation in Historic Polymeric Materials”.
  • Dr Simoni Da Ros and PhD student Isabella del Gaudio present recent findings from the long-term degradation experiment that has been set up from the team investigating deterioration in Cellulose Acetate and Cellulose Nitrate in real museum storage environments.
  • Dr Argyro Gili and PhD student Rose King present their work on plasticiser loss from Cellulose Acetate in different environmental scenarios.

The team receives great feedback from attendees and experts in the field.

COMPLEX team at the Lisbon Conference May 2019
June 2019

PI Dr Katherine Curran together with Dr Luca Mazzei from UCL Chemical Engineering department and Dr Argyro Gili visit the National Physical Laboratory to discuss ideas on physical damage in plastic artefacts with experts in the field. 

July 2019

COMPLEX team organise the first partners meeting. Representatives from Tate, Process System Enterprise Ltd., Lacerta Technology Ltd. and UCL Chemical Engineering department attend the meeting in an enlightening multi-disciplinary spirit. Ideas on improving storage conditions in museums, understanding physical damage in plastic artefacts, using partners software for modelling purposes and multidisciplinary publications are amongst the topics that were discussed during the meeting.

COMPLEX Partners meeting July 2019
September 2019
  • PI Dr Katherine Curran is invited at the International Conference “PLASTICS FOREVER?” at the Deutsches Hygiene-Museum in Dresden to present the scope of COMPLEX project: “The degradation of complex polymeric objects in heritage collections: A system dynamics approach” and new findings in plasticiser loss and chain scission from Cellulose Acetate artefacts.
  • PhD student Isabella del Gaudio presents her preliminary findings on the stability of cellulose acetate in museum environments at the Polymer Degradation Discussion Group in Malta.