UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage


UCL ISH's Katherine Curran awarded prestigious ERC Starting Grant

4 October 2016


The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded the UCL’s Bartlett Faculty with a Starting Grant – a prestigious funding award designed to identify and boost talented young researchers across Europe.

Lecturer Dr Katherine Curran of the UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage will receive one of just 325 ERC Starting Grants to be awarded this year to researchers from all over the world to pursue ground-breaking research in European institutions across a wide range of disciplines.

Katherine will be funded over five years to explore a new approach to understanding the degradation of polymeric materials as complex systems, with particular focus on the care of modern materials such as plastics in heritage collections.

Modern materials have made possible new forms of artistic expression such as photography or cinema and these objects are collected in their thousands by museums. However, despite the perception that plastic lasts “forever”, these objects can be some of the least stable in collections, sometimes degrading suddenly and catastrophically.

While the field of plastics conservation has developed considerably, the real complexity of this degradation remains unaddressed, with the interactions between factors such as light, temperature, moisture and the properties of the material itself still very difficult to predict and manage.

Katherine’s project – ‘COMPLEX: The Degradation of Complex Modern Polymeric Objects in Heritage Collections: A System Dynamics Approach’ – will seek to address this issue by using ‘System Dynamics’ – a new method to polymer degradation – to understand the behaviour of materials as complex systems. By viewing the degradation of museum objects in this way, COMPLEX can provide evidence-based conservation strategies for museums, and help them to preserve this fascinating and fragile heritage into the future.

Katherine will work with research partners Tate and the Museum of London on this project.

Commenting on the award, Katherine Curran said: 

“I am very excited to have been given this opportunity by ERC.  I have been fascinated by both the complexity of material degradation and the value of plastics as modern heritage for a long time, and this is a wonderful opportunity to explore both of these topics in the detail they deserve.”

The ERC grants are awarded under the 'excellent science' pillar of Horizon 2020, the EU's research and innovation programme. The ERC received 2,935 proposals of which only 325, around 11%, was funded. Katherine’s five-year project which will start in April 2017.


For media enquiries, please contact BSEER Communications Manager Alexander Blackburn on a.blackburn@ucl.ac.uk or 0203 108 9860.