Departmental Seminar: Plastics, smells and heritage

04 March 2020, 3:00 pm–4:00 pm

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Dr. Katherine Curran, Institute of Sustainable Heritage, UCL

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to

UCL staff | UCL students






Anna Regoutz


Ramsay Lecture Theatre
Christopher Ingold Building, UCL
United Kingdom

We are all aware of the problems posed by plastic materials in the environment. But we rarely think about the history of these materials and how they have changed people’s lifestyles over the last 150 years. The impact that plastic objects have had on society, technology, art and design means that they are collected in their millions by museums, libraries and archives. Plastics form important parts of heritage collections such as photographic archives, 20th century costume or modern sculpture collections. Unfortunately, plastics are some of the least stable materials found in museum collections and some objects have suffered from catastrophic and irreversible decay not long after acquisition.

Research undertaken by Dr Katherine Curran at the UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage focuses on understanding the nature of the degradation processes in plastic objects in museum collections. Using accelerated degradation experiments, her research group studies the chemical and physical processes involved and how these are influenced by the museum environment. This work aims to develop mathematical models to explain plastic degradation, an approach with potential for understanding plastic degradation in other environments, such as the marine environment, or in landfill. Katherine’s work also explores the use of non-invasive analytical methods for studying the composition and degradation of real plastic artefacts in collections, in collaboration with museums such as Tate and the Museum of London.

About the Speaker

Dr. Katherine Curran

at UCL

Katherine has worked as at the UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage since 2013. She is Principal Investigator for the ERC Starting Grant funded project "COMPLEX: The Degradation of Complex Modern Polymeric Objects in Heritage Collections: A System Dynamics Approach" which will develop new approaches to understanding and modelling the degradation of modern polymeric materials in collections. From 2010-2011, Katherine received a Fulbright Scholarship from the Fulbright Commission in Ireland and worked with Prof. Jeffrey Moore at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign on the synthesis of macrocyclic compounds via alkyne metathesis. Katherine obtained her PhD in polymer chemistry ("Pd(II)- and Zr(IV)-catalysed Olefin Addition Polymerisation of Cyclobutene-based Monomers") in 2009 from University College Dublin (UCD), Ireland and her BSc (Chemistry) in 2004, also from UCD.