Past Projects

Modern oil paints such as that contained in historic cans of Rippling were used by artists like Pablo Picasso and his contemporaries and are the subject of a joint Northwestern-Art Institute study.

"Collaborative Research: Modern Oil-based Paints: A Mechanistic Approach to Assessing and Modeling their Curing, Aging and Cleaning"

National Science Foundation, Division of Materials Research, CHS program, grant DMR-1241667 (2012-2015). Principle Investigators: Professors Kenneth R. Shull, Katherine T. Faber, Linda J. Broadbelt of Northwestern University and Kimberley Muir of AIC.

This project focuses on the study of the curing and aging properties of modern oil-based paints and the impact of conservation treatments on them. Investigations of paint coatings in the context of cultural heritage science present a unique set of technical challenges because of the evolution of the properties of materials over time scales that are much too long to be reproduced directly. As a result, data-driven kinetic models of the aging process are needed in order to understand the physical state of aged paints and to develop effective restoration and cleaning strategies. In this project, a kinetic Monte Carlo model of paint curing and aging is being developed, along with experimental systems needed to determine relevant model parameters. The net result will be a set of simulation models that can beviewed as 'virtual' oil-based paint coatings. These 'virtual' coatings will enable the time dependent, structural features of complex, multicomponent paint coatings to be tracked. The models, with their experimentally determined input parameters, represent a physical and chemical knowledge base for oil-based paint coatings that will serve as a platform for addressing a wide range ofquestions. Specific issues to be addressed concern the curing and aging of systems when subjected to heat, humidity and various cleaning solutions. Kinetic parameters will be determined experimentally with coatings made from well characterized starting materials, using the quartz crystal microbalance (QCM) as the primary experimental tool. Nanoindentation will be used to correlate the high frequency mechanical response obtained with the QCM tocomplementary measures of the mechanical response and to actual paint samples. While these techniques will be applied directly to oil-based coatings used by artists, the methodology is broadly applicable in a variety of areas, including characterization of high performance protective coatings, and the development of sustainable, bio-derived materials. The results of this research will be used to develop more effective conservation strategies for paintings in collections at the Art Institute and at other museums throughout the world.

An educational outreach element linking science and art will also be developed in conjunction with the Art Institute's Department of Museum Education. Outreach offerings will be developed to attract middle school and high school science classes to the museum.

"Surface–Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy for Art Research, with Theory and Education"

National Science Foundation, Division of Chemistry, SCIART program, grant CHE-1041812 (2010-2013). PIs Professors Richard P. Van Duyne and George Schatz of Northwestern University with Francesca Casadio of AIC.

This project seeks to develop new analytical and theoretical methods to determine the molecular structure of natural organic pigments and dyes, both original and deteriorated, used in cultural heritage materials. Targeted aims include ultra-high sensitivity, high spatial resolution, minimum sample damage, generality, and independence from reference libraries for identification. Both plan-view and cross section molecular mapping capabilities are sought, at multiple spatial scales (micro to macro). Deep near infrared (NIR; 800-1300 nm) excited surface enhanced Ramanspectroscopy (SERS) will be developed to study pigments and dyes with minimum fluorescence and minimum damage to precious art works. Advanced theoretical methods will be used for molecular structure identification beyond the limitations of a pigment library. Theory will also be used to predict possible degradation mechanisms of faded colorants and to model optical properties and optimal structures of plasmonic nanoparticles and their assemblies to give maximum SERS sensitivity.

A one-week intensive summer course for teens (The Art and Science of Color) was developed collaboratively with the AIC's Museum Education Department and offered in the summer of 2012, successfully attracting minority students in Chicago.

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