A passion for pigment

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Working with physics professor Seyfollah Maleki, she sought to understand how this highly prized deep blue-violet pigment used by painters over the millennia degrades with the passing of time. Such research could help art conservationists determine the unknown dates of some old paintings.

“As the pigment ages, its chemistry changes, affecting its original color,” Maleki notes. “And so a lot of the indigo pigment that was once bright blue is now yellowish.”

Seyfollah Maleki

Welles was seeking a project for her Sophomore Research Seminar when a friend mentioned Maleki’s research. As someone who has always gravitated toward classes in both the fine arts and the sciences, she found that “the combination of both my passions in a single area of research seemed like the perfect opportunity.”

She used lasers and a spectrometer in Maleki’s art conservation lab to analyze the indigo sample. She also observed how to extract microscopic samples from paintings and viewed them under various polarizing and ultraviolet microscopes.

As a senior, Welles did research for her thesis on the stable isotope ecology of ticks. After independently working in the physics lab, “I now appreciate the application of spectroscopy to research in a broad range of disciplines,” she said.

“Spectroscopy, by definition, doesn’t sound like it would be applied to art history or ecology. Luckily, I’ve been able to do both—and will continue to do so after Union”—at a research institute for ecosystem studies and in a Ph.D. program at the University at Stony Brook.