The ISIS Society Impact Award– utilising neutrons for non-invasive analysis of arms and armour
11 Jun 2018



The winners of the ISIS Society Impact Award demonstrated the value of neutron techniques for the non-invasive study of irreplaceable historical objects; and some of the most important objects in English history may now be candidates for analysis at ISIS.




​In 2018 we launched the ISIS Impact Awards for facility users, celebrating the scientific, social and economic impact generated by the user community. The winners of the three awards were announced at the UK Neutron and Muon Science and User Meeting (NMSUM) 2018.

The winner of the Society Award was The Wallace Collection, London for their non-invasive analysis of arms and armour. Here we present the first of three case studies on the winning entries.

The Wallace Collection is a national museum in London which has, inter alia, the largest collection of princely European armour in London, and one of the finest collections of Indo-Persian armour outside the subcontinent (and as yet catalogued). Researchers have undertaken a program of analysis of these arms and armour by neutron techniques at ISIS Neutron and Muon Source for a number of years, with very interesting results. Neutron techniques have proven to be particularly valuable analytical methods for museum objects since they are entirely non-invasive.

The outcomes of these studies will be of vital importance in future decision making regarding the ethical conservation and restoration of the Arms & Armour collection at the Wallace Collection, and will influence future decisions about other historical collections in the UK and beyond.

After a number of swords and other museum items from The Wallace Collection had been successfully analysed, and the results demonstrated to their Conservation department, the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury Cathedral agreed to allow the helmet of the Black Prince (d 1376) to be taken down from where it hangs over his tomb in Canterbury Cathedral and brought to ISIS Neutron and Muon Source for examination.  This is probably the oldest helmet in England with a known owner.

Researchers used neutron diffraction on the INES instrument to analyse the helm, and showed that its three plates are made of similar low-carbon steels, with traces of stress in the front plate. These results are consistent with the helm being a local product rather than an import  ( the import trade in suits of Italian armour does not develop until the 15th century). The stress in the front plate evidently resulted from being struck, and subsequently straightened out, indicating that the helm was probably  worn by the Black Prince  in battle.


Underpinning researchers

Dr. Antonella Scherillo (STFC) instrument scientist on INES

Dr Francesco Grazzi (CNR)  theoretical physicist

David Edge (Wallace Collection)  conservator; author of “Arms and Armour of the Medieval Knight"(1988)

Dr Alan Williams  (Wallace Collection)  archaeometallurgist; author of “The Knight and the Blast Furnace" (2003)


References to the research

“Phase composition mapping of a 17th century Japanese helmet" (A.Williams,  A.Fedrigo, F.Grazzi, S.Kabra & M.Zoppi)  Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry, (2015)  online

“Characterization of an Indian sword: classic and noninvasive methods of investigation in comparison"  (A.Williams, E. Barzagli, F. Grazzi,  D. Edge,  A. Scherillo,  J. Kelleher, M. Zoppi)   Applied Physics A , 119, 1 (2015) 97-105.

“Determination of the manufacturing methods of Indian swords through neutron diffraction". Franceso Grazzi, Alessio De Francesco, Elisa Barzagli, Antonella Scherillo, Alan Williams, David Edge, and Marco Zoppi. Microchemical Journal, 125, (March 2016)  273-278.

“A new method of revealing armourers' marks"  (A.Williams, D.Edge, F.Grazzi, N.Kardjilov)   Studies in Conservation  (2017)  published online 4th April, 2017.

Combined application of imaging techniques for the characterization and authentication of ancient weapons"  ( Floriana Salvemini, Francesco Grazzi; Nikolay Kardjilov; Frank Wieder; Ingo Manke; David Edge; Alan Williams; Marco Zoppi)  European Physical Journal - Plus, (2017) 132: 228.


Sources to corroborate the impact

BBC Inside Out South East, broadcast on Monday 26 February on BBC1 at 19.30hrs, and possibly a longer program later on BBC4.​