What relationships exist between chemistry and art? This semester,
Renee Stein and Jon Rienstra-Kiracofe challenged students with that
question in a Perspectives on Chemistry course (taught
by Senior Lecturer Preetha Ram), for which the pair gave five guest
Many of the students answered the question with a resounding I
have no clue. But that was before Stein and Rienstra-Kiracofe
enlightened them: artists use chemistry to make art; chemistry deteriorates
art; conservators use chemistry to clean art, as well as to verify
or authenticate it. And these are just a few examples.
As a practical demonstration for the class, the pair use infrared
spectroscopy, a technique with which the chemistry students were
familiar but perhaps had never seen applied to artwork. It can reveal
the composition of a materialsuch as the paint covering a
Stein applies the technique in her work as a conservator at the
Carlos Museum, using an instrument called a Fourier Transform Infrared
(FTIR) spectrometer, named for the mathematician who developed the
transform system to convert data to a line spectrum. By adding a
microscope, the FTIR can be used to study very small samples (the
size of a grain of salt), which is necessary when sampling from
Steins collaboration with Rienstra-Kiracofe, lecturer in
chemistry, grew out of their introduction at a reception for the
very FTIR instrument used in their lectures. The instrument was
given to Stein by a former mentor and relocated to Emory through
the collaborative efforts of the Office of the Provost and the departments
of physics, chemistry and environmental studies, as well as the
College Science Council and General Science Committee. It is housed
in the lab of Sidney Perkowitz, Candler Professor of Physics.
Stein came to the museum because of the Egyptian collection and
will use infrared spectroscopy in her research on coffins and other
funerary objects. Her work is adding to the museums knowledge
of its holdingsfor example, whether certain materials are
ancient or modern) as well as providing information useful for preserving
and restoring the objects.
Its not just research for the sake of research, but
research for a purpose, said Thérèse OGorman,
head of conservation at the Carlos.
Steins interest in research has enhanced the teaching mission
of the museums Parsons Conservation Laboratory, establishing
valuable connections with scientists on campus and providing opportunities
for students interested in doing scientific study of ancient objects.
The reason Renee is so valuable, OGorman said,
is that sometimes the approach to testing in science is a
little different than the approach to testing in art, and I think
that she creates that link.
In her quest for a career combining chemistry and the study of
antiquities, senior Heather Abbott has been able to take advantage
of the conservation laboratory and Steins expertise. After
reading an article that sparked her interest, Abbott sought guidance
from OGorman, which led to an independent project with Stein
in collaboration with Dobbs Professor of Inorganic Chemistry Luigi
Marzilli and Senior Research Associate Kenneth Hardcastle. The project
involved using X-ray diffraction to identify red pigments of Carlos
Being given the opportunity to work with artifacts from the
Carlos Museum has been amazing, Abbott said. Not only
have I had the opportunity to learn about a variety of techniques
used in the analysis of objects, but Ive also been able to
work with a multitude of individuals in each department.
The presence of conservators on campus adds an educational element
that Stein hopes students will take advantage of. Conservation
by its nature is a very interdisciplinary field, she said.
So our presence, and the presence of the lab, can be a crossroads.
We want to make it possible for students to utilize those aspects
and for us to expand upon what we can do and what we can learn by
being a part of the University