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A Chemist’s Experience in Cultural Conservation

A Chemist’s Experience in Cultural Conservation

Lai Yam Chiu's Story
Faculty of Science

Matthew is a final-year Chemistry student minoring in Music. In the previous summer, he completed an internship with the Conservation Office of the HKSAR Government under the HKSAR - Post-secondary Student Summer Internship Programme.

Matthew set his eyes on this internship since year 2 and decided to apply in his penultimate year summer. For that, Matthew has completed an internship programme in the University Museum and Art Gallery (UMAG) to get a glimpse at the work of  the museum. Matthew was also actively involved in archiving works of his residential hall.

While the relationship between Chemistry and historical relics may seem far-fetched, Matthew actually had more opportunities to conduct chemical tests during his internship terms.

Photo of Matthew
"The field of cultural conservation has allowed Matthew to combine science and art."

“We were able to use many different analytical instruments - those which we would hardly use in the lab sessions of our curriculum. For example, the purple colour of a painting degraded, causing the artwork to fade gradually. Through an experiment, we found out that this was caused by the breaking of chemical bonds.” Matthew managed to deduce the original chemical for the purple pigment and used it to repair the painting. 

Another example would be the creation of nanocellulose to reinforce the strength of paper, “I have read a lot of literature about this, but we still have not managed to replicate it successfully yet.”

Through the practical experience, Matthew now understands the tremendous amount of work and efforts people have put in for the museum exhibits. We have to thank those people for their dedication to preserving our history and cultural heritage.

The field of cultural conservation has allowed Matthew to combine science and art. Though he has not decided which industry he will enter in the end, conservation remains a very appealing option for him.

Written by:
Truston Yu
Year 4, Faculty of Social Science
September 2020

A Chemist’s Experience in Cultural Conservation