By scrutinising this process, Callum has discovered real differences in the way each stone distributes salt and moisture throughout the material. These differences are down to the stone’s pore structure, which is influenced by how the stone was formed. For instance, Locharbriggs stone formed approximately 265 million years ago during the Permian period, when Scotland was an extremely arid, desert-like environment. Because of this, Locharbriggs is a very porous stone. Its many small pores can be found within distinct layers in the stone. These layers prevent water from spreading so far, keeping it confined to smaller pores in the material.
Callum also found that smaller pores are filled with moisture before larger pores, with crystallisation occurring in these pores more quickly than previously thought. This is particularly important because it means that just a small amount of moisture and salt can rapidly cause permanent damage to the stone.
But there is an upside: with this information, Callum can recommend the best response from authorities to help preserve Scotland’s historic buildings. His research will help to identify types of replacement sandstone that are more resistant to damage, and will ensure that councils develop a better formula for de-icing salts that don’t have the same sort of detrimental impact.
Observing the impact of his work, Callum comments: “A historic building is so much more than bricks and mortar. It is a relic of our past and a reminder of where we have come from. To keep our cultural heritage alive, we need to understand more about the microscopic processes taking place way below the surface, and this depth of insight is only possible using the facilities based at a synchrotron.”
He continues: “I’m keen to share our experiences so that other people can appreciate how powerful the facilities at Diamond are, and how they are helping to solve real-world problems that are of great value to our national heritage.”
Our history is important. It links us back to our past, and we have a duty to preserve relics of our national heritage. Although they may seem like unlikely bedfellows, science plays a vital role in safeguarding history through the preservation of the monuments and artefacts from our collective past. And this is vital work. The lasting impact of Callum’s research will be the preservation of his ancestors’ architectural triumphs so that they can live on, to be enjoyed by future generations for years to come.