Lab Name: The Mary Rose Trust

Researcher: Dr Eleanor Schofield

Location: Portsmouth, UK


Dr Eleanor Schofield - image credit, Christopher Ison, Mary Rose Trust
Dr Eleanor Schofield - image credit, Christopher Ison, Mary Rose Trust

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Dr Eleanor Schofield is the Head of Conservation and Collections Care at The Mary Rose Trust, and she holds a PhD in Materials Science from Imperial College London. Eleanor is a speaker at this year’s New Scientist Live event, so Laurie Winkless spoke to her to learn more about her work…

What is your academic background, and how did you end up working for The Mary Rose trust?

I completed by MEng and PhD in Materials Science at Imperial College London, graduating in 2006. Following on from this, I became a post-doctoral research associate at Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource, using x-ray techniques to characterise radioactive ground water waste and investing remediation strategies. After the completion of this post I moved back to the UK and the University of Kent and started working with the Mary Rose Trust on using x-rays to characterise acids developing in waterlogged archaeological wood and potential neutralising treatments. In 2012, I joined the Mary Rose Trust as the Conservation Manager and recently became the Head of Conservation and Collections Care

What are the major themes of your group’s research? And how many people are involved in the project?

The major theme of my research is the characterisation of the material properties of artefacts, investigation of novel techniques to do so, and the development of new treatments and technologies to stabilise them. Partnering with Universities and Research Institutes is key to my research. Grants are usually put together with these partners and students/postdocs situated at the University with frequent contact with the Trust. Key research at the moment includes investigating problematic compounds in wood and novel treatments (University of Glasgow – Leverhulme Trust funded), detecting pollutants within showcases and assessing possible impact on artefacts (UCL – EPSRC/National Physical Laboratory) and characterising the corrosion products in archaeological iron (UCL - EPSRC/Diamond Light source funded). 

Can you give us an idea of a typical day for you?

My days can vary drastically from one to another! Usually it starts with turning on the computer and checking emails. I can see from this whether any of the systems controlling the environment around the ship and artefacts have had any issues. If they have, I speak to my maintenance team to find out what is going on and how it is being fixed. Since the end of last year, a lot of our time has been focused on the renovations and re-opening of our museum in July. This has involved lots of meetings and co-ordinating different parties contributing to the project. In other times I will be meeting with my Conservation and Collections Managers to discuss ongoing work. I also then spend a significant amount of time liaising with students and their respective research projects.

Image Credit- Stephen Foote, Mary Rose Trust
Image Credit- Stephen Foote, Mary Rose Trust

How has your background in materials helped in your role working in conservation?

The knowledge I have acquired during my training as a Material Scientist has been invaluable to my current role in conservation. Every aspect of what we do in terms of assessing degradation, developing and monitoring treatments requires a knowledge of materials properties and suitable techniques.

Has our approach to conservation changed as new technologies have been developed?

Conservation evolves as characterisation techniques and technological methods develop. For example, conservation methods employed decades ago can now be shown to be problematic due to more advanced techniques telling us more about the materials properties. Treatments advance rapidly as new materials are developed, and so, are much easier to tailor to specific scenarios and environments.

What facilities and equipment do you use to do your job?

At the Mary Rose we have an SEM, FT-IR and a portable XRF. I also routinely use synchrotron sources for advanced x-ray analysis.

What’s next for your research?

Our research continues into monitoring the artefacts, how they degrade and how the conservation treatments used evolve over time. If problems arise, we team with research partners to determine the most effective solution to the problem – sometimes this involves the development of a new treatment. Alongside this there is an element of looking at the conservation we have completed and what we would do differently if we had the analytical/technical tools available today and the knowledge of the materials we now have, to inform future conservation strategies.

Image Credit- Stephen Foote, Mary Rose Trust
Image Credit- Stephen Foote, Mary Rose Trust

Selected publications / links

Schofield, E. J., Sarangi, R., Mehta, A., Jones, A. M., Smith, A., Mosselmans, J. F. W., and Chadwick, A.  Strontium carbonate nanoparticles for the surface treatment of problematic sulfur and iron in waterlogged archaeological wood. Journal of Cultural Heritage 18, 306–312 (2016)

Schofield, E.J., Delaveris, C. and Sarangi. R. Alkaline earth carbonates for the treatment of problematic sulfur associated with marine archeological wood. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 4 (2015) 427–433

Preston J, Smith AD, Schofield EJ, Chadwick AV, Jones MA, et al. The Effects of Mary Rose Conservation Treatment on Iron Oxidation Processes and Microbial Communities Contributing to Acid Production in Marine Archaeological Timbers. PLoS ONE 9(2), 2014: e84169. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0084169

Chadwick, A. V. ,Berko, A., Schofield, E.J., Jones, A. M., Mosselmans, J. F. W., Smith, A. D. The Application of Microfocus X-ray Beams from Synchrotrons in Heritage Conservation International Journal of Architectural Heritage, Vol 6 (2), Pages 228-258, 2012

Chadwick, A. V., Schofield, E.J., Jones, A. M., Mosselmans, J. W. F. and Cibin, G., 2012 Ionic Nanoparticles in Heritage Conservation; Treatments for the Mary Rose Timbers,  Solid State Ionics, Vol 225, Pages 742-746 

Schofield, E.J., Sarangi, R., Mehta, A., Jones, A. M. and Chadwick, A. V. 2011. Nanoparticle de-acidification of the Mary Rose. Materials Today, Vol 14 (7-8) Pages: 354-358

Chadwick, A.V., Berko, A., Schofield, E.J., Jones, A.M., Mosselmans, J. F. W., Smith, A. D. How X-rays are helping defeat the effects of micro-organisms in the preservation of Mary RoseL’Actualite ChimiqueVol 356-357, Pages 106-108, 2011

Berko, A., Smith, A.D. Jones, A. M., Schofield, E.J., Mosselmans, J. F. W. and Chadwick, A.V. XAS studies of the effectiveness of iron chelating treatments of Mary Rose timbers. Journal of Physics Conference Series: 14th International Conference on X-ray Absorption Fine Structure (XAFSI 4), Vol 190, 012147, 2009

A full list of publications can be found here:

Further information


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