Research and development

Research and development is the foundation of the Canadian Conservation Institute's (CCI) service and knowledge dissemination activities. CCI's research projects are driven by the needs of the heritage community in Canada. This community is extremely diverse and includes large federal heritage institutions, provincial archives, small volunteer-run community museums and art galleries, Aboriginal cultural centres, provincial museum associations and artists.

Learn more about the research projects CCI is undertaking.

Research priorities

When determining our research priorities, our emphasis has always been, and will continue to be problems facing Canadian institutions and Canadian collections. We take into account three major criteria.

Positive impact

The first criterion for research is that it has a positive impact on the preservation of heritage collections in Canada. This type of research specializes in studying the deterioration of heritage materials and investigations of ways to improve the care and management of collections. Our work in this area includes:

  • studying the treatment of waterlogged basketry from archaeological sites in British Columbia;
  • investigating modern materials, especially electronic media — the deterioration of which could lead to the total loss of some components of heritage collections;
  • studying materials or artifacts with unique Canadian aspects such as birch bark and leather; and
  • developing on an ongoing basis risk-based decision-making tools that could lead to more effective collections preservation or preservation management for all museum or archival collections in Canada.

Accessibility and understanding

The second criterion is the impact on the accessibility and understanding of Canadian collections. Improved conservation treatments make objects more accessible to Canadians and research into artifacts or collections leads to increased knowledge and understanding for researchers.

Research in this genre includes studying the materials and techniques of Canadian creators or artists. This allows us to better understand how they constructed their works by investigating the various materials and objects that are important to Canadian collections. Work we have carried out includes:  

  • investigations into the materials and techniques of Canadian artists A.Y. Jackson, Jean-Paul Riopelle, and Norval Morriseau;
  • analyses of pigments found on First Nations artifacts; and
  • explorations of treatments for flags and banners, which often have an iconic significance to a community.

Corporate considerations

The third criterion we take into account is corporate considerations. The directions and priorities established by the Department of Canadian Heritage must be taken into consideration. Practical concerns, such as whether we have the appropriate expertise and equipment to carry out the research, are important to highlight. In addition, we do not want to duplicate research being carried out elsewhere, although we are happy to collaborate with partners when this is beneficial.

Types of research

Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) scientists and conservators conduct applied research and development activities that focus on the preservation and conservation of heritage collections in Canada. Within this range of research, we have three categories defined by the nature of the work, the results, and the users of the results.

Foundation research

Foundation research results in new knowledge and/or techniques that are required as building blocks for other types of research within CCI, but may not answer a conservation question on their own. Foundation research at CCI normally involves either the study of materials (to understand the chemical and physical properties of heritage materials) or the development or refinement of scientific methods that are required for other research. Examples of our foundation research include a study of iron corrosion mechanisms, and the development of a technique to measure the degree of polymerization of cellulose in paper.

Applied research

Applied research is used to answer conservation questions and results in new knowledge for treatments or collections, based on an accumulation and interpretation of experimental data. It uses scientific techniques or observation of samples to reach conclusions. The majority of CCI's science laboratory research is in this category. Examples of CCI's applied research include the development of an ultrasonic mister tool to permit consolidation of powdery surfaces and investigation of techniques and materials used by Canadian artists.

Collections preservation research

Collections preservation research results in frameworks, tools or guidelines to enhance the preservation of heritage collections through managing collections. This research is frequently referred to as preventive conservation, and results in improved decision-making and cost effective management of heritage collections to minimize deterioration. Examples of collections preservation research include research into the packaging and transportation of artworks, and the development of guidelines and standards related to the preservation of collections.

Browse through all of CCI’s research projects.

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