Themes of Research

While in the Netherlands, the student cohort will address questions related to important works of art using a variety of analytical tools associated with each research theme outlined below. When applying to participate, students should outline how their respective backgrounds fit into one or more of these themes and how this experience may be harnessed to better understand the structure, chemistry, and deterioration of works of art.

Microanalytical Tools in Art and Forensics

Scanning electron microscope of colloids used as substrates for the identification of dyes in cultural heritage.

Research in this area will complement students’ interest in Chemistry and related disciplines. The focus will be on the development of advanced technologies for detection of trace colorants, binding media, and substrates. In Cultural Heritage Science – as in Forensics – there is a need to determine the chemical fingerprint of a material to better understand both the artist’s intentions in making the work of art and to monitor changes to objects over long periods of time.

Change and reactivity in complex systems

Schematic representation of a quartz crystal microbalance (top); frequency response in the vicinity of the crystal resonance for a loaded crystal (dashed line) and an unloaded crystal (solid line).

Art objects are classic examples of material composites that exhibit hierarchical heterogeneous structures; that is chemical and structural variation that only becomes recognizable at the appropriate length scale of examination. Empirical and predictive models of materials’ alteration and change at these multiple length scales are important drivers for innovation in fields that range from forensics, high-performance coatings, solar energy, and security. Research in this theme will be on how material change can be monitored and documented from an engineering perspective.

Imaging and data mining

Multispectral fayum
Visible light multispectral imaging acquisition on a Roman Egyptian painting.

Recent developments in molecular and elemental standoff macro chemical imaging offer cultural heritage researchers the opportunity to map the distribution of artists’ materials (pigment and paint binders) in artworks. Such information not only provides deeper insight into the creation of works of art and the evolution of the artist’s technical practices, but can also be used to document chemical and chromatic changes over time. The information  provides invaluable tools to conservators to faithfully monitor change in appearance as well as to help them design their strategy for conservation treatments. Research centered on this theme will focus on developing easy-to-use and inexpensive systems and data treatment to foster routine and widespread use of this new set of valuable imaging tools.