Chemistry Beneath the Surface

Monday, February 24, 2014

Chemistry professor Michelle Bushey and Trinity undergraduate Nicole Feldman '15 study a marble head at the San Antonio Museum of Art.

In collaboration with the San Antonio Museum of Art, a chemistry research team examines a marble sculpture for traces of ancient colors and chemicals

by Jeanna Goodrich Balreira '08

In collaboration with the San Antonio Museum of Art, conservators, and other collaborators, chemistry professor Michelle Bushey and Trinity undergraduate Nicole Feldman '15 examine a marble sculpture for traces of ancient surface pigments and other decorations.

Dating to approximately 150 CE, the piece is a portrait of Antinous as Dionysus. Despite being cleaned at some point in its history, the team has identified several types of surface decoration including paints and gilding. The Trinity team is contributing data obtained with a portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometer and portable microscopes that function in the UV, visible, and infrared portions of the spectrum to locate and identify surface features.

An analytical chemist, Bushey has expanded her research from chemical separations to the analysis of art and artifacts--she even developed a Chemistry of Art course with art professor Kate Ritson. "(Collaborations) teach you that when opportunities come up, (you should) try to say 'yes' to them because they lead to other things that are a lot of fun," Bushey says.

Feldman, a double major in chemistry and art history, finds this collaboration right up her alley. “I have really enjoyed being able to combine two of my passions, chemistry and art,” Feldman says. “This experience has allowed me to apply what I have learned from both of my majors at Trinity University. I am very grateful to Dr. Bushey for allowing me to part of such an amazing opportunity.”

Jeanna Goodrich Balreira is the associate director for creative communication in University Marketing Communications. She is a 2008 Trinity graduate.