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  Sustainable artwork preservation: understanding and controlling environmentally induced changes to paintings

   Department of Engineering

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  Prof Barbara Shollock  Applications accepted all year round  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Applications are invited for a 3.5-year funded PhD studentship based in the Department of Engineering, King’s College London led by Professor Barbara Shollock with Professor Aviva Burnstock, from the Conservation Department at The Courtauld.

This 3.5-year funded exciting project, to begin in February 2024, aims to discover and characterise environmentally induced changes to paintings.

Museums must preserve their collections but now need to reconcile this with reducing their energy use. With increasing energy costs and the drive to net zero, museums and galleries face challenges in maintaining the close control of the ambient environment in their buildings and exhibition galleries. Despite recent guidelines on environmental conditions, the effects of variations in humidity and temperature on degradation mechanisms of paintings remain poorly understood.

The PhD project will focus on the characterisation of paintings and their surrogates across a range of environmental conditions using a range of advanced techniques such as X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy and electron microscopy as well as digital image correlation to correlate the structure of the painting across length scales with its response to environmental changes. Such understanding will better guide the rationale and guidance on ambient environmental conditions for the preservation of paintings and their long-term stability. 

This project will benefit from your creativity and enthusiasm, with opportunities to learn and apply a wide range of skills, including experimental design, measurement and quantification of local deformation, data analysis, materials characterisation and mechanical testing and modelling. You will be supported by a collaborative and talented group of academics, researchers and technical staff in the Department of Engineering and at The Courtauld. There will be opportunities for international travel and public communication activities, and you are encouraged to develop skills through teaching in the Department of Engineering. 

The successful candidate must have (or expect to obtain) a 1st or 2:1 degree in, ideally with four years of study at university level. The successful candidate will have a strong interest in materials design and experimental work. 

You will be an enthusiastic and self-motivated person who meets the academic requirements for enrolment for the PhD degree at King’s College London. You should hold or expect to obtain a First-Class Honours or a 2:1 degree at master’s level (or equivalent) in materials science/engineering, chemistry, mechanical engineering, physics or a related science. You should have an enquiring and rigorous approach to research together with an independent initiative and desire to learn as well as good team-working, observational and communication skills. If you have an interest in paintings and developing testing and characterisation techniques alongside modelling and simulation methods to investigate the effect of environmental conditions on painting across the scales this would be ideal. 

Application Procedure

To be considered for the position candidates must apply via King’s Apply online application system. Details are available at: 

Please apply for Engineering Research (MPhil/PhD) and indicate Barbara Shollock as your desired supervisor and the project title in your

application and all correspondence. 

In the funding section of the application (Award Scheme Code or Name) use the following code: BS Sustainable artwork

The selection process will involve a pre-selection on documents, if selected this will be followed by an invitation to an interview. If successful at the interview, an offer will be provided in due time. 

Chemistry (6) Engineering (12) Materials Science (24)

Funding Notes

Funding is available for 3.5 years (covering Tuition fees, Stipend plus London Allowance, Bench Fees/Research Training & Support Grant). It covers tuition fees for UK or International students and a tax-free stipend of approximately £20,622 p.a. with possible inflationary increases after the first year. The student is expected to contribute to the delivery of teaching and assessment in the Department of Engineering. The studentship includes the Department’s standard conference travel support, a computer, and consumables.