Georges-Pierre Seurat, French. A Sunday on La Grande Jatte — 1884, 1884–86, painted border 1888/89. Oil on canvas. The Art Institute of Chicago: Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection, 1926.224.


When Color is Sensitive to Light

Marcie Wiggins

Marcie WigginsMy name is Marcie Wiggins and I am participating in the NSF-funded International Research Experience for US Students (IRES) this summer in the Netherlands. I have been interested in conservation and cultural heritage studies since high school as a unique, challenging way to utilize chemistry. Pursuing chemistry and art history as an undergraduate at the University of Maryland, I was able to further explore this interest through internships at the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute. Now, I continue this focus as an analytical graduate student at the University of Delaware. Read more

Paintings, Not as "Still Life" as You Might Think

Lindsay Oakley

Lindsay OakleyMy name is Lindsay Oakley and I am a Northwestern University graduate student working in the Netherlands this summer as part of a NSF sponsored International Research Experience for Students (IRES) focused on investigating questions in cultural heritage science.  I was first introduced to the field as an undergraduate at the College of William and Mary. When I was struggling to settle into a major, deciding between chemistry and history classes that I also enjoyed, I met a chemistry professor setting up a collaboration with the paintings conservator for Colonial Williamsburg. Read more

Deep Inside the Paint: How researchers use cutting-edge chemistry to understand an artist’s vision

Ajax, detail showing variations in surface gloss and texture

Amanda Koehn

Researchers at the Art Institute of Chicago and Northwestern University know there is much to be appreciated beneath the surface of a painting. 

Clara Granzotto, a visiting fellow at the Northwestern University/Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts, recently created a new technique to learn which mediums the twentieth century artist, Georges Braque, used for his painting, “Ajax.” Read more

How science saved a Bauhaus artist’s works from deterioration

Johanna Salvant 

László Moholy-NagyBecause conservation scientists strive to shed light on an artist’s processes and materials choices, our work can be like that of a detective. Using advanced scientific techniques, we have to analyze the physical and chemical properties of works of art. But we must also sift through historical and archival documents for specific mentions of materials or technologies, and how they’ve been traditionally used. Read more

Bread Crumbs in Bronze: Connecting Chemistry and Art History in Rodin's Sculptures

Jia You
Johanna Salvant, postdoctoral fellow at NU-ACCESS
Widely considered the father of modern sculpture, the French artist Auguste Rodin created some of the most memorable works known to humanity, including The Thinker. But dating the vast number of bronze sculptures created by the prolific artist poses a challenge for museums worldwide. Now, scientists at the Northwestern University/Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts (NU-ACCESS) have developed a method to help museums — by examining the very material that make up these art works. Read more

Gauguin's NativityHow Computer Science was used to Reveal Gauguin's Printmaking Techniques

Marc Walton

Paul Gauguin’s art has always held special meaning for me. When I was six years old I spent a year on the small island of American Samoa. Faint memories of eating fresh guava plucked from trees, sliding down waterfalls and joining in Fia Fia – feasts where we would eat taro-root and chicken cooked in a pit – are triggered whenever I see Gauguin’s Tahitian imagery. Read more

Papyrus scroll with text

Pitfalls of Using Science to Authenticate Archaeological Artifacts

Marc Walton

A recent volume of the Harvard Theological Review was dedicated to a small piece of papyrus that has become known as the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife (King, 2014). A first attempt to publish this object in 2012 was met with controversy over its authenticity (Goodstein, 2012), specifically of its ancient Coptic writing that when translated into English states:

“Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…’” Read More

Who Knew There Was so Much to Blue?

Megan Fellman
Lapis LazuliEVANSTON, Ill. --- Fifteen years ago, Northwestern University scientist Marc Walton was turned on to blue when two basic facts struck him: blue was the first man-made pigment, and the word“blue” didn’t come into existence until many years later. Intrigued, Walton set out to learn more about this “most human color.” (And, yes, blue is his favorite color.) Read more

Building the Museum of the Future with Google Glass

Jenny Draper

Google Glass app being developed through NU-ACCESS

Different wavelengths of light are pointed at works of art in laboratories all over the world, dissecting structure and pigments not seen with the naked eye. Each week it seems experts uncover some facet of a painting previously lost to time, from discovering Rembrandt’s self-portrait to solving a 400 year-old mysteryRead More

RTI and Paul Gauguin: Summer Research for Teachers With NU-ACCESS

Carla Stone

Carla Stone (left) with RET director Dr. Lincoln Lauhon.I am a Golden Apple 6th grade Science and Social Studies teacher at Martin Luther King Literary and Fine Arts School here in glorious Evanston, Illinois.  This school year I entered my classroom on a cloud of exhilaration over my newly acquired skill-sets and improved confidence from my summer experience with the Research Experience for Teachers (RET) program hosted at Northwestern University and funded by the National Science Foundation.  As I embark on my 16th year in School District 65 ready to teach 6th grade Earth Science, Pre-History and Ancient Civilizations for another year, the challenge or fear of being fresh and engaging was nonexistent after experiencing the most amazing summer research program of my life— I actually lived science and experienced life as a research scientist! I was filled with a newness that I hadn’t felt since my 3-hour undergraduate organic chemistry labs at DePaul University trying hard to make acetylsalicylic acid from scratch.  Read More

Replication Studies of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s B-10 Space Modulator: 
Summer Research at NU-ACCESS  

Amy Gonzales  

Heat forming plexi in the laboratoryI am an undergraduate student going into my senior year at Princeton University and I just did a summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) with the MRSEC/NU-ACCESS program at Northwestern University.  Right now NU-ACCESS is collaborating with the Guggenheim Museum to study the works of Hungarian Bauhaus artist László Moholy-Nagy in order to prepare for an exhibition of his art that the Guggenheim Museum, in collaboration with the Art Institute of Chicago and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, will launch in 2016.  The aim of my project was to scientifically study one artwork by Moholy-Nagy, B-10 Space Modulator (, by trying to remake the work myself.  I had never heard of or seen his art before this internship but, when I saw that the project description said I would be able to mix art and science, I jumped at the chance.  Even before the internship, because I live nearby in New Jersey, I got to take a trip to the Guggenheim’s conservation department to see the piece and some other works for the exhibition.  Being able to see the artwork close up and discuss little details with the Guggenheim conservators was an amazing experience.  My first glimpse into the world of Moholy-Nagy had me excited to begin my internship. Read More

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