Icon Intern Project: Dust monitoring at Kenwood House

Tayba Batool has recently completed her two year Icon Preventive Conservation Science Internship based at Rangers House, London, English Heritage. Read more from her blog about her involvement in a dust monitoring project at Kenwood House

12 Mar 2024

 Dust monitoring project at Kenwood House
 By Icon Intern, Tayba Batool

Over the course of 13 months, I placed 51 glass slides around the historic property, collected every 28 days (with some exceptions). The aim of this project was to determine where dust was coming from (visitors clothing, outside driveway gravel), and to find out if the dust was coming through the windows due to improper sealing. This project is to support the future care of Kenwood by giving robust data to show environmental problems the dust from the driveway gravel is causing. The current cleaning programme at Kenwood is very rigorous as the dust needs to be cleared away frequently, it is also of an alkaline nature so can be damaging to objects if left to sit too long. To pinpoint the n required a minimum of 2 slides in each room, one placed near the windows and one nearer the inside walls, preferably close to walkways.

Placing and collecting slides

On the first visit, each slide was numbered, and its place marked on a floor plan of the house. Some slides were disturbed quite frequently so did change placement quite a few times, however, I tried to keep the new placement in the close vicinity of the last to ensure data was at least similar. When it was time to collect the slides, a cover glass was taped onto the top and a date written on the slide. If a slide had moved from its original placement, or had a fingerprint, or shown any such disturbance, this was made note of in an excel spreadsheet log.

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Picture: adding the cover slides over the collected glass slide.The slides were then placed in a slide container, and then into a plastic storage box, carried in a plastic bag to help keep it flat. As there were technical issues with the microscope, the slides were collected and kept in a box in a safe place ensuring minimal movement would ever disrupt them to await analysis. 

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Picture: Left – dust slides with the glass cover slides on top. The visible difference in dust from two slides from the same room. Right – using the floor plan of the house with all the slides marked on with short descriptions of placements. This helped to keep track of slides collected and make notes of any disturbed slides etc.

I also wrote a small article for the monthly newsletter for volunteers, it seemed like they were quite interested as I did get a few questions the visit after from many volunteers, they also mentioned they now knew not to touch those glass slides.

Unfortunately, whilst it’s not been possible to carry out the analysis during my internship I am interested to find out the results. As I have collected a full 13 months of samples this should make it easier for analysis to be conducted in future and finally get some information for this project that they have attempted a couple times previously.

What I learnt

This was a great project to understand the process of collecting information required to answer questions regarding environmental issues a property faces. I have ensured all the information regarding disturbed slides was uploaded onto the shared drive in an accessible location. I was able to see a dust analysis process during one of our visits, to Liverpool museums, so understand a little bit of the analysis process that follows. There was a visible difference between the slides with an increase of yellow dust from the driveway during the drier months leaving a yellow layer on the slides.

It will be interesting to see what analysis of the dust slides reveals and how the data will be used to improve the environment within the property. The results will be disseminated in future by English Heritage, possibly through conferences.