Interested in all things to do with Anglo-Saxon metallurgy

Vanessa Cheel

Main Interests

  • TBC

My background is Materials Characterisation, predominantly metals and microscopy. I started in Engineering, continued in Engineering Materials (Warwick University) then moved to Oxford’s Dept of Metallurgy & Science of Materials (thankfully now called the Materials Dept) for a D.Phil on the diffraction properties of copper (with light, x-rays, electrons, neutrons and gamma rays). There were a couple of spells in industrial research (first electroplating silver onto heat-shrink polymers, later in nanotechnology), and an assortment of Materials research fellowships. Peter Northover has been teaching me archaeometallurgy since at least the 1980s. After all, it is the characterisation of archaeological materials.

Brian Gilmour persuaded me to volunteer to succeed Aurelie Cuenod looking after the Tylecote collection at the RLAHA as I have the metallurgy experience to compliment her archaeology. Some of the collection information is in poor condition or missing and I have the technical skills to repeat/replace/supplement the data. Although based in the Materials Dept at Oxford, I am an informal visiting scientist in Archaeology as that is where the Tylecote collection is housed and I work on it one day a week.

I have always run several career strands concurrently [Jill of all trades, mistress of some] and the second is education at all levels from primary to graduate. Promoting Science & Engineering, especially attracting girls into the field, is a regular occupation. I’ve been a teaching head of sciences & maths at several secondary schools, finally resigning from a specialist school for autistic pupils in August 2017. I still have half a dozen international A-level science students. I love sharing science and seeing people succeed.

Another occupation was a part-time role in Oxford University’s Maths, Physical and Life Sciences Division (MPLS) as Access & Outreach officer running events for schools & the general public. I am a member of the Materials Dept outreach team (an independent subset of MPLS) which involves a range of undertakings including presentations and workshops.

Much fun and experience have been gained from involvement in the running of various small-scale activities: youth groups, cycling, treasurer for the school shop. Our back garden was home to several experimental furnace designs, lead smelting, tin and copper extraction and bronze production as our children & their friends explored basic metallurgy.

When it came to iron, we had to resort to chemistry and the thermite reaction to get high enough temperatures. Holidays were/are geology field trips. Gradually home is developing into a laboratory and I so wish I could afford to run an SEM in the basement.

Eight years of responsibility for planning, listed buildings, green belt and arboriculture for the local Parish Council have been followed by occasional co-option on hydrogeological matters as that is a particular interest.

The cross-fertilisation and dissemination of ideas is a central tenet so the HMS collections being made widely available as a research and teaching resource for the layman as well as the specialist is very important to me. Eventually the HMS will have a number of collections beyond the current holding and knowledge of more: it is my aim to maximise their availability in readily accessible form for inquirers from whatever background. Needless to say, that will continue beyond tenure of an HMS Council post so carries with it the necessity to have an easily used format. The dream is to see the HMS be the ‘go-to’ place for all things historical metallurgical. It is so much more than a one person task

A few of my publications

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