There are around 230,000 objects in the Museum collections, some of which date back to prehistoric times. They vary in size from airliners to microchips, and contain virtually every material known to man.

This fascinating diversity presents a range of challenges for the conservation team, who must preserve the collections for the future.

Conservation involves the treatment of objects to remove or stabilise the effects of physical or chemical degradation. The condition of each object and the applied treatments are recorded on the collections database as part of the history of the collections.

Preventive conservation means ensuring that objects do not suffer from deterioration from the environment that they are displayed or stored in. Objects can be affected by light, heat, moisture, particulate pollutants and pests, as well as chemical and biological agents, so it is important to create the right conditions for their preservation.

Who carries out the conservation of the collections?

The Museum has three conservation units manned by trained, experienced staff. One unit works within the museum at South Kensington, maintaining the displays. Another is based at Blythe House in West London, looking after the small to medium sized objects housed there. The remaining unit is at Wroughton in Wiltshire and looks after the large objects collection located there.

The diversity of the collections means that the conservation team needs a range of in-house expertise to look after the objects.  Consequently the museum employs conservators with object conservation training, and those with craft and engineering skills.   

The conservators based at each location prepare objects to be displayed in the museum galleries or for loan to other museums.  They advise on suitable environmental conditions, display methods and assist with the object installation. The collections care assistants team keep the objects on open display in the galleries clean and free from dust and dirt, assist with storage projects and accessing objects at all locations. 

Within the stores, conservators work with the curators and collections logistics staff to ensure that the objects are kept in a stable environment and are physically safe, regularly checking for signs of deterioration and insect pests so these can be actively managed and prevented.

As part of the acquisition process, the conservators provide advice on collections care, the cost of conservation and any hazard management costs. The nature of the collections means that many objects may contain hazardous materials such as lead, mercury and asbestos. Some are radioactive or poisonous. The coservators play a key role in ensuring that the Museum remains a safe environment for visitors and staff alike.

Research and Training

As a national museum, the Science Museum contributes to research looking at new conservation methods and materials. The museum has sponsored postgraduate research projects to study the degradation and stabilisation of modern materials and is currently supporting a PhD in sustainable buldings for museums.

The conservation team also hosts internships to enable newly qualified or trainee conservators to gain essential practical experience working with collections. In addition the conservators train the Science Museum's staff in collections care methods and hazards in collections.

Working objects and restoration

Many of the working models and objects on display in the museum were made in the nineteenth or early twentieth century. These must be monitored and maintained to ensure that there is minimum wear on the mechanisms. In the past, some of the vehicles and larger objects in the collections were restored to working condition. This gives visitors the opportunity to see examples of historic technology in action. Generally, however, the Museum now has a policy of preservation and conservation, rather than restoration, so that the historical integrity of objects is maintained.