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Crime Scene Investigator: Museum of Fine Arts

Pictured below: Two MAD SCIENTISTS!
madscientist1.jpg Madscientists.jpg

Mad Scientists!

As I mention frequently in my previous blogs, I've always enjoyed drawing and painting as a child. The arts allowed me to express myself in a way I felt that I couldn't do otherwise, and as I grew up, I began to develop an interest in the sciences and the chemistry of life.

Now that I am a college student, I want to seek a career that fits my interests. It was never brought to my attention that there was a field dedicated to the arts and sciences until I began working with Dr. Leonard Soltzberg, who is currently retired, in the Simmons College Chemistry labs.

Nnennaya, a junior majoring in chemistry, and I were selected from a pool of applicants last spring semester and began working this fall. This research will continue through next semester. Nnennaya and I both recently applied for a student research grant individually to help fund more materials for the research, so cross your fingers for us!

The research that we are involved with is in collaboration with the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) involving the identification of dyes used in 19th-20th century Japanese block prints. The objective of this research deals with the history of Japanese art and whether or not synthetic dyes were used during the 19th to early 20th century. Learning the history behind the art is important to understanding the cultural background, as well as potentially authenticating a work of art. For example, if our research shows that there were only natural dyes used during that era, then any Japanese painting from that time should not contain synthetic manufactured dyes. If a work did contain a synthetic dye then it can be concluded that it was not an authentic Japanese block print from the late 19th and early 20th century and was created after that time period. We're pretty much crime scene investigators for the MFA. :)

I am so grateful for this opportunity! Each day at work is like a fun day of a fun class! What I love about it most is that I can say anything and not be afraid about being wrong and I especially love that I don't have to worry about getting a grade! I am getting paid for this Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) funded by the Dreyfus Research and I am learning so much!

Pictured below is a Japanese block print sample from the MFA.

My science background:

I am a sophomore standing college student, and I have taken many science courses including Intro to Chemistry 113, Intro to Biology 113, Environmental Science Biology 104, Organic Chemisty 114, and I am currently enrolled in Organic Chemistry 225. I am currently participating in Dr. Richard Gurney's Organic Chemistry 114 & 225 research integrated course. I have developed and learned laboratory techniques such as: safety, scaling of a chemical reaction, recrystallization, preparation of a chemical synthesis, thin layer chromatography (TLC), melting point, rotovap, distillation, Carbon13 Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (CNMR), Hydrogen Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (HNMR), and Infrared Spectrometry (IR). I have maintained a Wiki page documenting the laboratory techniques I have learned. I am a highly motivated student and I have made the Dean's list this past year.

Read more about the research:

I am using MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry and 3-dimensional UV-visible fluorescence spectroscopy to analyze these Japanese dyes. MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry measures the molecular weights of compounds and is highly sensitive. It can analyze a very small sample, which is important for our research because I am analyzing actual Japanese block prints from the 19th-20th century, and I only have access to tiny samples from the Museum of Fine Arts.

By obtaining the molecular weight of the molecule, it can then be compared to the literature value to determine what kind of natural or synthetic dyes or pigments exist in the sample Japanese block prints. Because this research also relies on published information on dyes and pigments, it would be extremely useful to have access to the International Colour Index Database. This database provides important relevant information like nomenclature, constitution, main applications, and suppliers of dyes and pigments. Against each product name is listed the manufacturer, physical form, principal usages and comments supplied by the manufacturer.

Using three-dimensional UV-visible fluorescence spectroscopy, I recently found that dayflower blue, which is what I think the first piece of sample Japanese print may contain, is fluorescent. Knowing this, I would eventually want to test for the fluorescence of the actual MFA sample of the print and compare the three-dimensional results.

If granted the research funds, I would like to purchase the synthetic dyes that were commercially available during the time period we are focusing on. Even if I find just one instance of synthetic dye usage, I will be able to come to my conclusion in my research.

I am planning to continue this research for the full academic year of 2011-2012. Dr. Leonard Soltzberg was the previous Chemistry Department Chair and Dr. Soltzberg will be my faculty advisor who will guide and advise me in my research.

Posted by Sandy Lor on December 5, 2011 12:42 AM
Category: Academics