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UA Science Cafe at Magpie’s Pizza – ‘Seeing Through Paintings: Manipulating Light to Unlock Cultural Secrets’

In this series, graduate students from the UA Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and members of the Alpha Chi Sigma professional fraternity for chemistry, will talk about what we can discover using different wavelengths of light.

Every day we depend on light, from the sun or electric lights, but we don’t often think about light from a scientific perspective. Light comes in a many different wavelengths – what scientists call the electromagnetic spectrum. Scientists use different wavelengths of light to discover how our world works. 

Talk: “Seeing through Paintings: Manipulating Light to Unlock Cultural Secrets”

Presenter: Kristen Watts, Ph.D. student, chemistry

Talk description: People are often captivated by the outer surface of a painting – the subject matter, the technique, the colors. But there is frequently a hidden, unknown story that lies beneath that surface. Modern imaging techniques take advantage of the different wavelengths of light to “see” beneath a painting’s surface. Using light from the infrared to X-rays, chemists can begin to look at the original sketches underneath the canvas paint as well as finding evidence for “hidden paintings” that an artist might have chosen to paint over or cover up.