Relationship between art, chemistry discussed at UCO 

Eric Bosch will lecture about the relationship between art and chemistry at UCO Friday, March 7. - PROVIDED
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  • Eric Bosch will lecture about the relationship between art and chemistry at UCO Friday, March 7.

The University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) will host Eric Bosch, Ph.D., professor of Missouri State University, to discuss the relationship of chemistry and art throughout human civilization. The presentation and dinner is part of the American Chemical Society – Oklahoma Section March meeting. The event will take place in Nigh University Center’s Heritage Room, 100 N. University Drive, in Edmond and is open to the public through registration.

Bosch, a native of Durban, South Africa, received a bachelor’s degree with honors in chemistry from the University of Natal in Durban. He earned his Ph.D. in organic chemistry at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and completed post-doctoral work at the University of Houston before accepting a position at Missouri State University in Springfield.

The lecture examines topics ranging from ancient cave drawings to sourcing and creation of pigments by civilizations and how science is used to discover forgeries in art. Many academics and researchers tend to focus on the significance and meaning behind 30,000-year-old European cave drawings, but Bosch peers into the art in a different light.

“We ask, 'How did they create their pigments? Where were they found? What were they composed of?'” Bosch said.

Prehistoric man used naturally occurring pigments found in crushed pebbles and clay, such as shades of red produced from iron oxide and manganese blacks, as well as yellow from ochre. The cave drawings were literal “earth tones.”

Prehistoric artists also used charcoal and ash for shades of black. Bosch said these materials help scientists pinpoint when the cave drawings were created.

“With ash and charcoal, we look for the carbon-14 isotope,” he said. “It’s found in the leaves and branches of plants and tree rings. No new carbon-14 is created after death, and by measuring the isotope’s decay, we can determine the age.”

Bosch also touches upon the paintings of ancient Egypt. These artists, who lived 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, created the world’s first synthetic pigments.

 “They took different rocks in the region and heated them to high temperatures and in specific ratios,” he said.
Egyptian blue is an example of these early synthetic pigments. The material exhibits luminescence, the ability to emit light without being heated, and retains this quality for millennia. The substance continues to catch the eyes of researchers.
 “These pigments are still being studied today,” Bosch said.
Chemistry is also used to detect art forgeries. Using chemical analysis, scientists determine the composition of the paint used, supplying clues about the origin of the work.

One of the most famous examples of the use of chemistry to detect counterfeit art is “Portrait of a Woman.”

The painting was attributed to 18th-century Spanish romantic painter Francisco Goya. In 1954, the work was x-rayed, exposing a second portrait beneath, also of a female. Using x-ray diffraction, a method of identifying the atomic and molecular structure of a crystal, researchers determined the second portrait used zinc white paint. The pigment was not available till after Goya’s death, meaning the both the bottom portrait and the top portrait were forgeries. Further chemical analysis exposed that the pigments used in the top painting were modern and were carefully applied to blend the portraits seemlessly.

The subjects of his lecture are lifelong passions for Bosch.

“My interest in art and science started when I was a kid,” he said. “I was always interested in both, but not together.”

Art is a side project for Bosch. For the last decade, he has focused on ceramic pottery and sculpture. Approximately 15 years ago, he combined his interests and introduced an intersession class about the relationship between art and science for chemistry students. The response to the course was overwhelmingly positive, and through that, the lecture was born.

The presentation at UCO will be geared for a general audience. Throughout its existence, the lecture has been given to a number of different audiences, including academics and researchers who are familiar with high-level theory. However, Bosch said the topic affects everyone.

“Art is close to everybody,” he said. “People see and interact with art and colors all around them, but we don’t think about where they come from.”
Though the presentation will touch on some high-level concepts, no one should fear confusion or intimidation.

“I make sure the audience understands all of the time,” Bosch said.

The event takes place during the Oklahoma Section of the American Chemical Society’s March meeting. The organization, founded in 1876, is committed to improving people’s lives through the transforming power of chemistry. It is the largest world’s largest scientific society.

Bosch said the organization helps not only chemists but also society as a whole.

“The organization supports members through job fairs and helping them find employment,” he said. “There is also the speaker circuit. Many members give lectures on a variety of topics throughout the country in the local sections. It’s public outreach to help make people aware of the good of chemistry.”

The dinner costs $18 for American Chemical Society members and guests and $5 for students. To register, call 974-5732, or email csupon@uco.edu. Registration ends at noon on Feb. 27

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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