Collection Care blog

Behind the scenes with our conservators and scientists

13 March 2014

CSI at Festival of the Spoken Nerd: I Chart the BL

The British Library Science Team in collaboration with Festival of the Spoken Nerd put on a highly entertaining event last Monday night entitled I Chart the British Library. The event explored the highs and lows of data visualistion and was sold out attracting over 250 people to the British Library Conference Centre.

The show is part of a season of events at the British Library supporting the stunning exhibition Beautiful Science: Picturing Data, Inspiring Insight.

A large group of people in a conference room, most are standing but some are sitting around two round tables at the front of the photograph. Many people in the group have both hands raised upwards.
Hands up if you think science is cool!

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The show was hosted by stand-up mathematician Matt Parker, geeky songstress Helen Arney and science experimentalist Steve Mould. The hosts were joined onstage by the British Library’s Head of Sound & Vision Richard Ranft who showed the audience some wonderful examples of how animal and bird sounds were historically recorded using musical notation – a lot different to how sounds are recorded today!

Collection Care was represented during the interval by a demonstration of the Library’s very own CSI team – Conservation Science Imaging of course! Audience members tested the contents of their wallets both under the microscope and under a multispectral camera to delve into anti-fraud techniques. The first thing we noticed was that some pound coins had the initials IRB under the Queen effigy, while others didn’t.

A group of people stood around a woman seated by a desk with a laptop and photographic stand equipment set up. The camera is acting as a microscope, visible on the laptop, to better visualise banknotes and coins.
Analysing notes and coins during the interval

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The £1 coin below on the left shows a portrait by Raphael Maklouf in which the Queen wears the George IV State Diadem. This design was in use between 1985 and 1997 after which a competition was held by the Royal Mint to design a new effigy. The winner was Ian Rank-Broadly and his design (right) shows the Queen wearing the ‘Girls of Great Britain and Ireland’ Tiara, with a signature-mark IRB below the portrait. To date three different obverses have been used.

Two british pound coins heads-up side by side on a  grey background. The coin on the left dating to 1990 with a portrait by Raphael Maklouf in which the Queen wears the George IV State Diadem. The coin on the right dating to 2001 with a portrait by Ian Rank-Broadly showing the Queen wearing the ‘Girls of Great Britain and Ireland’ Tiara. The IRB signature mark is found on this coin
Two one pound coins

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IRB are the initials of the British sculptor Ian Rank-Broadly who has produced many designs for British coinage. The initials are difficult to make out with the naked eye but under the microscope they are clearly observable. Things to look out for in the case of counterfeit coins include date compared to design, edge lettering, quality, and orientation (the designs on both sides of the coin should be aligned when swivelled).

Extreme zoom at 200x magnification of a section of a coin, dark silver in colour, showing the relief of the initials I R B. The initials IRB stand for Ian Rank-Broadly and sit under the effigy of Elizabeth II on coins from 1998 onwards.
Close up of letters on a coin

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“But what about hard cash?” asked one audience member producing a twenty euro note. "To the multispectral camera – poste-haste!" The design on the bank note is created using a variety of inks. Each ink has a unique spectral reflectance and so different parts of the design appear and disappear at different wavelengths as we move from ultraviolet (UV), through the visible (VIS) region and into the infrared (IR) part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Notes which don’t behave in this way are most likely counterfeit. Luckily no fakes were found!

A 20 euro banknote shown four times with different lighting. The top left is a twenty euro note in normalighting, showing a note with various  shades and hues of purple, the imagery of elaborate stained glass windows as the banknote image. The top right shows the 20 euro note at 420 nm (UV, this results onan image of the bank note in black and white with strong contrast. The bottom left shows the bank note in 700 nm (VIS) lighting. This results again in black and white, with a softer contrast. The bottom right shows the note in 1000 nm (IR) lighting, again resulting in a black and white image, however it has the appearance of being over exposed, very pale with almost no contrast.
A 20 euro bank note in different lighting wavelengths

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Audience members were also invited to visualise sounds using spectrographs and to participate in a live analogue data collection and visualisation experiment conducted by Matt Parker.

A man in blue trousers and a black leather jacket stands with his back to the viewer in front of a whiteboard, with his arms outstretched. A man also with his back facing us, but appears closer to the viewer seen only from the waist up in a blue jumper. The whiteboard in the background has a list or vertical timeline on the left safe barely visible in red and green marker, and on the right hand side has large half circles drawn in red and green marker.
Matt puts his volunteers through their paces in this live experiment

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The goal was mapping back-to-back distributions of female vs male arm spans and a fantastic 137 people took part. The Libation Lab (or bar…) was also a huge hit and really made everyone appreciate all those sciency puns.

The night was a huge success and I think we all learned something new - well done to the BL Science Team! You can read more about their experience on the science blog.

Visit the Beautiful Science: Picturing Data, Inspiring Insight exhibition until 26 May 2014 in the Folio Society Gallery for free.

Christina Duffy


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