Sensors installed in an exhibit
Sensors recording vibration data installed inside a showcase at the Ashmolean Museum

Museum exhibits and artefacts are often subject to vibrations that are caused by human activity. Construction works and music are common sources of vibration, however even the much less noticeably disruptive activity of visitors walking past an exhibit can have the potential to cause a structure to vibrate and museum objects to experience a rocking motion. Although the motion may only be slight it presents a serious threat to museum collections as it has the potential to cause damage, particularly if occurring on a regular basis and over a sustained period of time. This project has sought to investigate these everyday vibrations. Wireless sensor devices were set up with accelerometers to record  vibration data from different exhibits and an automated alert system was created so that the accelerations were recorded whenever acceleration and velocity limits were exceeded. The data collected has allowed the characterisation of different vibration types, and evaluation and validation of possible approaches to mitigating their effect. 

Research aims

This project has investigated the factors that influence and amplify the effect of vibrations by studying data recorded from sensors placed on exhibits themselves and on the ground walls and supports in the surrounding area. The data provides valuable new information about the nature of the rocking motion and through analysis of the data it has been possible to develop new ways of modelling this behaviour. Investigating materials that are readily available within museums, the project has sought to identify the best solutions for mitigating the impact of these vibrations. The findings have the potential to transform approaches to preventive conservation across the museum sector and to allow the development of practical guidance that will improve our ability to care for and preserve museum objects that are often invaluable and irreplaceable.

Project funders

Oxford University Innovation Fund

Project team led by

Daniel Bone, Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

Project team

Professor Manolis Chatzis, University of Oxford
Mark Norman, Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

Project start

September 2015


Presentation ‘Quantifying and mitigating human generated vibrations in museum exhibits’ at the University of Oxford Museums Staff Conference. 26th September 2016.

Session ‘A Preliminary Study of the Rocking Response of Artifacts Subjected to Sound Induced Vibrations’ at the 11th HSTAM International Congress on Mechanics. 27th–30th May 2016.  Athens.

Session ‘A Preliminary Study of the Rocking Response of Artifacts Subjected to Sound Induced Vibrations’ at the Engineering Mechanics Institute Conference. 22nd–25th May 2016. Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee.