In November 2019, Transmitting Science held a weeklong course on Fluid Preservation Conservation in Sabadell, Spain. The course was taught by Dr. Simon Moore and John Simmons and covered a basic introduction into fluid preservation to more detailed presentations on preservation issues for fluid-preserved specimens.
The course was attended by biologists, conservators and preparators, with attendees coming from across Europe, Qatar and Australia. Three team members were able to attend the course from the Australian Museum: Sheldon Teare (Natural Science Conservator), Dr. Anja Divlijan (Mammalogy Technical Officer) and Rehan Scharenguivel (Assistant Conservator).
The first day consisted on an overview on fluid preservation, the science of fluid preservation and methodologies utilised. The day ended with a practical of rehydration of desiccated specimens. This practical continued over the course of the week as the specimens had to be stepped from 10% ethanol to 70% ethanol in increments. This stepping is to counter act a number of potentially harmful mechanisms within the specimen as osmotic pressures change.
The second day was an overview on historic methods of preservatives used in fluid specimens, covering treatment methods for these preservatives and identification of hazards that may be present in collections. The practical element of the day was adhering snail shells using celloidin, an adhesive that sets in ethanol. However, when it dries in an oxygen environment it forms a flammable cellulose nitrate film.
The third day covered in more detail preservatives and those that can be used based on the specimen type. It was interesting to see that there are more options than the typical 70% ethanol. This is an area that probably could be addressed in fluid collections, in creating bespoke fluid preservatives based on the specimens needs.
The fourth day was consisted on mainly of practical work. We were each given a specimen which was severely deteriorated and had to find conservation solutions to their problems. I was given a brittle star (Ophiuroidea) that required a new preservative and reattachment of several of its limbs. This required dowelling the specimen with glass pins and adhesive, and stepping the specimen back up to 70% ethanol.
The final day we were able to travel to Barcelona for a guided tour of the Museu de Ciencies Naturals de Barcelona (Museum of Natural Sciences of Barcelona). The tour covered both the collection store and exhibition space of the museum. It was a great opportunity to learn how our colleagues in Europe are dealing with collection issues and connect with collection staff from the museum.
The main outcomes from the course were a comprehensive understanding of the mechanics of fluid preservation, variety of fluid preservation techniques and conservation methodology. One of the things that became evident during the course was the large variety of research avenues that are available in fluid preservation conservation. There was a conference in Paris, after the course, which aimed to catalogue current research needs and develop a standard in fluid preservation. We are all looking forward to the results of this.
Transmitting Science is a company that runs courses on museology, illustration and a variety of natural science topics. Their courses are highly recommended and taught by leading practitioners in their fields.