ISAAC mobile laboratory

ISAAC - Mobile laboratory



The Imaging & Sensing for Archaeology, Art History & Conservation (ISAAC) mobile laboratory was established in 2006 at Nottingham Trent University to further develop the use of optical imaging and sensing instruments in archaeology, art, history and conservation.

Our mobile laboratory gives access to:

  • state of the art and bespoke instruments for art conservation, history and archaeology communities, around the world;
  • a unique in-house developed portable imaging and spectroscopy instruments (funded by UK Research Council grants); and
  • commercial instruments that complement the above.

Find out more about the ISAAC group research.

How can the ISAAC mobile lab help your organisation?

ISAAC has a mobile laboratory which gives heritage organisations access to unique instruments and a range of complementary techniques to use in situ. We specialise in interdisciplinary research at the interface between science and heritage and in interpretation of the analytical results obtained by the multiple techniques. If you want to find out more about a cultural object or a collection using mobile non-invasive tools to perform in situ analysis, then ISAAC could help.

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SWIR Spetral Imager


Spectral imaging systems

Spectral imaging gives the spectrum for each pixel in an image, enabling efficient material identification, revealing hidden or faded features and detecting material degradation. Our spectral imaging device PRISMS is modular and able to image over a broad spectral range (UV, visible and infrared) at moderate or high spectral resolution and at high spatial resolution both close-up and at stand-off distances up to tens of metres. It can record simultaneously spectral images as well as 3D surface topography.


  • High resolution accurate colour images
  • Pigment and dye identification
  • Binding Medium classification
  • Revealing of underdrawings
  • Detection of alterations etc.
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Fibre optic reflectance spectrometer (FORS)

Fibre optic reflectance spectrometer (FORS)

FORS is a portable and flexible system for in situ measurements that complements visible/near infrared multispectral imaging by providing higher spectral resolution spectra with a broad wavelength range from 350nm to 2500nm.


  • Identification of pigments, including some with fine absorption lines (e.g. some red organic dyes)
  • Binding media Identification.
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Portable XRF Spectrometer

Portable X-ray Fluorescence (XRF) spectrometer

The handheld XRF can be used for in situ non-destructive elemental analysis. It is complementary to Raman spectroscopy and reflectance spectroscopy obtained from spectral imaging or FORS.


  • Assistance in identification inorganic pigments
  • Elemental composition of glass.
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Compact Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectrometer

Compact Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectrometer

This small footprint FTIR spectrometer can be operated in reflection mode thus enabling in situ non-destructive measurements of mid-infrared reflection spectra.


  • Identification of organic materials
  • Assistance of pigment and binding medium identification.
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Raman Spectroscopy

Raman Spectrometer

Raman spectroscopy gives very specific molecular identification. ISAAC is equipped with two in-house developed mobile Raman spectrometer at 780 and 532 nm capable of remote operation up to a few metres.


  • Non-invasive, highly specific identification of inorganic materials and some organic dyes.
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Microfade Spectrometry

Microfade spectrometry

This instrument is used for in situ lightfastness measurements on an artwork by monitoring the reflectance spectrum and colour while fading a tiny sub-mm spot at high light intensity. Strictly speaking the technique is micro-destructive, but in reality no damage is visible even under a microscope.


  • evidence-based risk assessments for the display of light-sensitive artworks.
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High Resolution Optical Coherence Tomography

Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) systems

OCT involves fast, non-invasive, non-contact, microscopic imaging of subsurface cross-section and 3D tomography. ISAAC is equipped with a range of OCTs, mostly in-house developed systems, that range in central wavelength from the visible range to the near infrared (560nm, 810nm, 930nm, 1300nm and 1960nm) offering a range of specifications from ultra-high resolution (~1 microns) to deep penetration into highly scattering materials.


  • High resolution and high contrast images of underdrawings
  • Detection of  delamination of internal layers, e.g. enamel
  • Monitoring of varnish removal
  • Monitoring of glass deterioration
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Long Wave Optical Coherence Tomography

Nuclear magnetic resonance  (NMR) Mouse

This is a portable unilateral NMR sensor equipped with a permanent magnet geometry that generates a flat sensitive volume parallel to the scanner surface.  The system can measure proton density (e.g. moisture content), T2 NMR relaxation times, T1 NMR relaxation times and self-diffusion coefficient of liquids.  The scanner produces one-dimensional profiles of the sample structure in situ.


ISAAC’s archaeology, art history and conservation projects takes the research team to museum, galleries and heritage sites across the World. From European projects at London’s V&A museum, the Louvre in Paris and Fondation Beyeler near Basal, Switzerland to North American work at New York’s Brooklyn Museum and Getty Conservation Institution (GCI) based in Los Angeles. In China, our research has taken us to Shaan Xi History Musuem, in Xi'an, the Dunhuang Research Academy in Gansu and the National Museum of China, Beijing.  View our latest international projects.

How to Apply

Access to the ISAAC mobile laboratory is provided at a non-profit basis to charities and public organisations. A short application is required, providing the background, aims and objectives of the project. You will then be contacted by a member of the ISAAC team to discuss the technical feasibility and to suggest instruments and techniques to apply.

From here a panel will judge the project’s merit and grade the proposal. The top ranked proposal will be granted access for free.


National and International organisations that we've worked with include:

  • The British Museum
  • The National Gallery (London)
  • Tate
  • Victoria and Albert Museum
  • English Heritage
  • Historic England
  • National Trust
  • Science Museum
  • Nottingham Castle Museum
  • Birmingham Museum and Gallery
  • Royal Horticultural Society
  • Historic Royal Palaces
  • Fitzwilliam Museum
  • Bodleian Library
  • Peterborough Cathedral
  • National Museum of Ireland
  • Louvre Museum and C2RMF (France)
  • LRMH (France)
  • National Museum of China
  • Shaan Xi History Museum (China)
  • Dunhuang Academy (China)
  • Getty Conservation Institution (USA)
  • Brooklyn Museum (USA)
  • Museums of New Mexico (USA)
  • Museum of International Folk Art (USA)
  • Fondation Beyeler (Switzerland)

Contact us

If you would like to find out more about ISAAC or talk to us about accessing our mobile laboratory, then please email us:


ISTeC 003
Nottingham Trent University
Clifton Campus, Nottingham
NG11 8NS

Still need help?

+44 (0)115 941 8418