Analysis of our Arms & Armour using Neutron Diffraction


Analysis of our Arms & Armour using Neutron Diffraction

One area of special interest within the Wallace Collection’s Conservation team is the analysis of metalwork in our Arms and Armour collection.

Besides using analytical techniques such as optical microscopy, metallography, Xray, and X.R.F. (Xray-fluorescence), during recent years the Conservation team has also made use of brand-new cutting-edge technology such as neutron-diffraction analysis.

Man in conservation doing experiment with dagger
David Edge, Armourer Emeritus, setting up a Wallace Collection kris dagger inside the neutron diffraction chamber at INES, the Italian Neutron Experimental Station at ISIS, part of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory

Unlike the other analytical techniques, neutron analysis requires multi-million-pound equipment and infrastructure and cannot be carried out in-house; art-works are therefore taken to the U.K. neutron source at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory for analysis. Use of these facilities routinely costs in the region of £15,000 per day, so this work is only possible through generous grant funding by the U.K. Science and Technology Facilities Council (S.T.F.C.)

In the UK the use of neutron diffraction to study historic art objects is a new technology which is still very much under development. At the Wallace Collection we are excited to be working at the forefront of new, non-invasive technology in order to further our understanding of our Arms and Armour collection.

Most recently, the Wallace Collection teamed up with Canterbury Cathedral to investigate the origins of six medieval helmets – one of which belonged to the Black Prince of England – using neutron diffraction technology. You can read more about this project on the STFC website here.