Heritage Scientists, such as Dr. Scott Allan Orr (ChemE 1T4), strive to support conservation, access, interpretation, management, and engagement with heritage. They improve the understanding, care, and sustainable use of heritage to enhance people’s lives both today and in the future. Some heritage scientists focus on understanding how objects such as paper and paintings change over time. Orr’s research is focused on built heritage, and developing appropriate risk assessment techniques to evaluate the potential impacts of a changing climate.
“Looking back, heritage was a natural fit,” says Orr. “I attended the Etobicoke School of the Arts and majored in musical theatre, but I was also interested in science and math. At the time, it didn’t occur to me that I could find a way to combine these interests. However, I did know that I loved the idea of finding new ways to address societal challenges.”
Upon graduating from the Etobicoke School of the Arts, Orr ultimately pursued an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from U of T. It was here where he met Dr. Peter Weiss, Engineering Strategies & Practice’s Communications Coordinator.
“My first academic interest in heritage science started in second year. We were required to plan and deliver a one-minute presentation on an ‘interesting application of chemical engineering.’ I stumbled across a paper that investigated the efficacy of consolidating timber structures with a polymer to strengthen them. I was fascinated! From then, I worked with the Faculty to develop an independent study where I looked at the role of Carnegie libraries in their communities over time. Dr. Weiss, who I now consider a good friend, was instrumental in my decision to create this independent study. It was exciting to see how he applied his skills in communications and creative writing to engineering. He inspired me to merge my own interests in the creative and cultural aspects of the world with engineering approaches.”
Today, Orr is a Lecturer in Heritage Data Science at the University College London (UCL) Institute for Sustainable Heritage. He is also the Deputy Course Director for UCL’s new MSc in Data Science for Cultural Heritage, which has him supervising research students, developing and implementing projects, and managing state-of-the art facilities for material testing and hyperspectral imaging of works of art, cultural heritage objects, and building materials.
No day is ever the same for Orr and that’s just the way he likes it! Orr attributes his ability to adapt to his U of T education. “Engineering teaches you to appreciate the complexity of the world and consider how different parts fit together. While at U of T, I was given opportunities to tackle diverse projects and develop the skills I needed to be successful,” explains Orr.
Ever thankful for his U of T experience, Orr is now working with UCL to explore summer research opportunities for U of T Engineering undergrads, and is happy to mentor current students through U of T Engineering Connect, the Faculty’s exclusive online platform for alumni and students. To reach out to Orr, visit uoftengineeringconnect.ca.