Purpose and Principles

The GCI's Science department carries out scientific research into a broad range of conservation issues, with the overall aim of advancing conservation practice around the world. We work across all sectors of the visual arts, including collections and built heritage, to improve understanding of how the world's cultural heritage was created, how it has altered and is likely to further change with age, as well as to develop and evaluate effective conservation strategies, treatments, and approaches.

In all its scientific work, the GCI seeks to:

  • Undertake a broad portfolio of scientific research, across all types of cultural heritage, and including all aspects of conservation science
  • Provide leadership in the field by focusing on a number of specific conservation issues and studying them in depth
  • Improve the long-term preservation and stability of works of art or other forms of cultural heritage
  • Evaluate new procedures and analytical techniques for their usefulness in the field
  • Provide scientific support to broader GCI and Getty projects where appropriate
  • Develop conservation science as a discipline
  • Disseminate our research to the conservation community through an active program of publications, workshops and conferences

Project Design and Implementation

GCI scientists undertake fundamental and applied research projects, using a wide variety of instrumentation and analytical techniques, to provide essential information to conservators and other professionals in the field. These projects address questions about the condition of individual works of art, the ways in which broad classes of materials perform and degrade with age, the ways cultural heritage may have been affected by environment or by previous conservation treatments, and the development and testing of improved methods for advancing conservation practice.

Science department projects are chosen and designed to address pressing and recognized needs within the conservation profession that fall in line with the GCI's current strategic plan and list of priorities, while drawing on the broad range of expertise that exists within the department. Staff in the department have a variety of education and training backgrounds, including chemistry, conservation, biology, geology, materials science, physics, and engineering, thus enabling us to undertake a great range of projects and research questions.

Unlike many of our professional colleagues, our projects are not guided by the requirements of any particular museum collection, so they can be tailored more directly to meet broader needs across the entire field. However, in the vast majority of cases, our scientists work in close collaboration with national and international partners to maximize available expertise, to allow access to a broader range of analytical techniques and methodologies, to study particular works of art or sites, and to ensure our research stays focused and relevant to the field.

An important feature of many of our collaborative projects is to ensure good communication with our partners. A particularly effective way we do this is to host visiting researchers to work in the GCI's science laboratories for limited periods of time, allowing them access to our instrumentation and the opportunity to engage in dialog with our staff. In some cases we also make our portable analytical instrumentation available to our partners, either in the field or at their institutions. We also often organize experts meetings around specific ideas at key moments in a project's timeline. These are often organized at the beginning of a project, where partners and roles can be more fully discussed, understood, and agreed upon.


Results from our projects are widely disseminated, targeting both the conservation community and the scientific profession. While our primary audience is the conservation field, it is important that the GCI contribute to the ongoing development of conservation science as a discipline by publishing its work in well-respected, peer-reviewed scientific journals. We endeavor to strike a balance in our dissemination methods which include academic papers in peer-reviewed journals, presentations at key conferences and seminars, books and project reports, symposia, and development of professional workshops. The vast majority of our published material is easily and freely accessed on our website, in addition to a growing number of instructional videos and roundtable discussions that can be assessed via our YouTube channel.

Research Areas

The GCI's scientific research projects fall into at least one of the following broad research areas:

Page updated: September 2015