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About CU Conservation

New Kids on the Bench

14 November 2016
Greetings, and welcome to the first blog of the 2016-17 academic year! We (the new first year students of MSc Conservation Practice) are aiming to maintain this blog during our two years here with updates on our objects, our experiences, and day-to-day lab happenings that we think you might be interested in.  There is a lot that goes on in our lab – in any conservation lab – that people outside of it never think about, that we never thought about before arriving here.  There are obviously the big things, the “wow, you’re trusting us to touch THAT” things: the X-Ray machines, the laser cleaning system, the 2500 year old sarcophagus.  But there are also little things about lab life that, even after two months, we are struggling to remember: how to properly roll a cotton swab (any interest in a tutorial video?), how to adjust your lab chair for maximum comfort (or at least minimum discomfort), how to read and sign a risk assessment for pretty much any lab hazard you can possibly imagine, how to put a new blade on your scalpel without bloodshed (there’s probably a risk assessment for that).

We’re all a bit overeager and overexcited and overstressed in our first few weeks, with our first few projects, so mostly we’re struggling with what may turn out to be one of the most important lab lessons of all: How To Not Spend Too Much Time in the Lab. Yes, how we fare over the next two years will probably dictate our futures, the lessons about swabbing and desk comfort and X-Ray developing will stand us in good stead for many years to come, but I think it is important for us to learn now that figuring out when to pack up our tools and books and go home to watch Bake Off is very important for our sanity, and certainly for Phil’s sanity.  (Sorry Phil).

So, over the course of the year, we hope to provide you with a variety of glimpses into the lives of conservation students at Cardiff University. Some, like this, may be brief and informal, while others may delve into topics like corrosion chemistry or solubility parameters or how to (and how not to) X-ray iron small finds.

Please feel free to leave comments/questions below! This blog will have several student contributors, and contact details will be provided as applicable. This year’s Blog Managers are Stephanie Whitehead ( and Aliza Taft (


  1. Jane Henderson

    So why roll your own cotton buds? Why not just buy them?

    • Aliza Taft

      First of all, I imagine that its cheaper – you can reuse the same stick over and over. But it also gives you control over the size of the bud and how tightly its rolled, which lets you control the amount of moisture it holds. You need different sizes and absorbances for different applications.

  2. Sue H.

    Great start! I’m ready to learn something new! For starters, who is Phil?

    • Aliza Taft

      Phil is the program’s senior conservator who supervises most of our lab time.

  3. Yiota Manti

    Super! I look forward to reading more contributions! 🙂 great picture!

  4. Johanna Thunberg

    My top tip for avoiding bloodshed when changing scalpel blades: small pliers! I couldn’t do without them.

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