Teach us something, please…

Welcome, from the 2017-2018 MSc1 Conservation team!

By Brooke Pollio

Group Pic

Back row (left to right): Daran, Thea, Emilie, Maria
Front row (left to right): Brooke, Yuhsin, Chenya

We’re a small team this year — there are only seven of us — and we’ve already formed a very close-knit group. We have an advantage over larger teams from previous years: there’s more space in the lab, and it’s easy to bond with such a small number of people. Within a month, we’d  already built a strong sense of community.

Building a cohesive team can be tough, especially if you have a large number of people or clashing personalities. Who really likes ‘team building’ exercises anyway? For our group, team building happened organically when we stumbled upon a subject that transcended our various ages, interests, and backgrounds: Harry Potter.

Leviosa not Leviosar

(Disclaimer: this is not something we learn in the conservation programme.)

We found that we could communicate more effectively with each other once we determined our Hogwarts houses. Eventually this led to the printing of house banners and designation of Moaning Myrtle’s toilet in the lab office (because the occasional breakdown is inevitable).

Crying Cupboard

“I’m sorry, you cannot access the computer at this time; Brooke is having a minor meltdown. Please try again in 15 minutes.”

We’re also lucky to have brilliant, dynamic professors and teaching assistants that are willing to play along, and our Hogwarts staff is nearly complete. I say ‘nearly complete’, because we’re still waiting on official word from the Sorting Hat on the designation of Dean and Renata. We take this very seriously.


Of course, not everything we do is related to Harry Potter. Our first few weeks have been filled with learning the basics — everything from holding a scalpel to the definition of ‘dirt’ (a several-hour-long lecture on ‘dirt’, mind you). We’ve been settling into the lab as well. Each of us has our own workstation that we can make our own.


Each workspace fits two people, and everyone has their
own microscope, magnifying lamp, and fume extractor.

At first, the only distinction between the workstations was the presence of our Hogwarts house banners.

House Banners

Banners created by yours truly (50 points to Ravenclaw).
(Editors note: While she does try to remain objective, the editor agrees with this allocation of points. Go Ravenclaw!)

 We’re learning conservation techniques by practicing on surrogate modern materials that we have more confidence with. For example, we learned to use a scalpel and tweezers to take samples from an object by practicing on personal items from Caitlin’s office.

Sampling Practice

A selection of Caitlin’s objects to use for practice sampling.

Some of us grew more attached to these objects than others.

Brooke's Boyfriend

Witnesses claim Brooke has been caught repeatedly with Caitlin’s wooden dragon.

We’ve also gaining familiarity with adhesives that we’ll be using or encountering in our careers. We started by taking a ceramic tile and applying sample strips of different adhesives to the surface. This allowed us to experience what it’s like to apply these adhesives when wet, and to see what the adhesives look and feel like when dry.

Adhesive Tile

A ceramic tile with various adhesives.

We can also view the adhesive tiles under ultraviolet (UV) light to see how the adhesives fluoresce. That’s kind of like magic, right?

UV Adhesives


On Fridays we’re surveying and conserving 19th century plaster casts at the UCL Pathology Collection at the Royal Free Hospital. (Editor’s note: stay tuned for a future post by the leaders of the project on how we created and implemented our survey.) Afterwards we head to the nearest pub, The George, for some tipples. No butterbeer here, but they do offer some boozy hot chocolate.

The George
The George…
Pub Pug

…where Yuhsin met a pug equally excited for Friday.

Be sure to check back for updates on objects we’re working on in the lab and pod projects we’re managing out in the real world. We might share the progression of the lab into our own miniature Hogwarts as well. I suspect the lab will be looking even more cheerful after one of the houses wins the House Cup. Once the results are in, we’ll be sure to send you an owl.

“It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be!”

~ Albus Dumbledore ~

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