FOR more than 400 years she has been soaking wet, but Oxfordshire scientists are looking for a hi-tech way to allow the Mary Rose to dry out and remain intact.

The remains of the famous Tudor warship, which is kept in Portsmouth, have had to be kept damp since she was raised from the sea 27 years ago, to stop her timbers crumbling to dust.

But scientists from the Diamond Light Source in Harwell are hoping to come up with a solution, using intense x-rays, which will mean the ship does not have to be constantly sprayed with a waxy solution to preserve its timbers.

Raised from the seabed in October 1982, 437 years after she capsized and sank, the Mary Rose is the only 16th-century warship on display anywhere in the world.

She capsized in the waters of the Solent, the stretch of water that lies between the Isle of Wight and Hampshire, in 1545. The ship settled on soft silt, which washed into her, eventually filling almost half the hull.

The resultant lack of oxygen preserved the timbers of the starboard side, while the exposed port side and masts slowly rotted away.

More than 400 years later, archaeologists raised her remains from the seabed.

Initially, the ship was sprayed with chilled, fresh water to rinse out harmful salts and acids and, since 1994, has been continually sprayed with polyethylene glycol, a water-soluble wax.

That stabilises the wood structure and prevents shrinkage during drying.

Researchers are now working on developing a treatment for the wood to extract compounds within it where it was in contact with iron, such as bolts or artefacts like cannons. If they can do that then it will mean the ship will not have to be continually sprayed.

Harwell scientists are now working with the Mary Rose Trust and researchers from Daresbury Laboratory and the University of Kent. Using data collected from research at Harwell earlier this year, the scientists are working on agents that can absorb iron from the wood Dr Andy Smith said: “As the iron compounds can form in small clusters within the cells of the wood, Diamond’s microfocus spectroscopy beamline is ideal for homing right in on a speck that is a fraction of a millimetre.”

The team will be able to use th e Diamond Light Source’s pin-point x-rays to aid their work over the next two years.

Dr Mark Jones, of the Mary Rose Trust said: “Thanks to research at Harwell and the help of our collaborators, we have great confidence of the safe preservation of the Mary Rose and other historic ships.”

l The first turf has been cut to make way for the latest experimental station to be added to the Diamond Light Source The new x-ray beamline will allow scientists to create 3D images of materials and biological samples. Among those to benefit will be medical researchers studying the cochlea (the inner ear), to develop a deeper understanding of how hearing works.