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Objects-based and objects-inspired scientific research

About the Center

The Center for Scientific Study in the Arts is a collaborative endeavor in conservation science that pursues objects-based and objects-inspired scientific research. A partnership between Northwestern University and the Art Institute of Chicago that dates to 2004, the center is made possible through Andrew W. Mellon Foundation support.

Bridging different fields of research, polymer scientists have seen the similarities in the curing of artists' paints with technological coatings. Chemists have brought new analytical techniques to the identification of pigments especially difficult to discern as well as their degradation products. Electrical engineers with expertise in digital imaging have revealed the coloristic evolution of works of art. Ceramists have unearthed the sources of color in Ancient Chinese jades and the unique material fingerprints of the first precious examples of European hard–paste porcelain.

Through our combined efforts, the Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts has established a successful track record of significant advances in conservation science across a variety of media. 


The goals of the Center for Scientific Study in the Arts are threefold:

Object-based research


Through collaboration between museum professionals and university science and engineering researchers, we conduct object-based and object-inspired research to answer problems of interest to museums and cultural institutions.


Collaborate and share expertise

In the interest of sharing Center expertise and fostering effective coordination of research efforts and intelligent use of resources around the United States, we extend research opportunities to museums and cultural institutions beyond the Art Institute of Chicago.

Educate on conservation science


We seek to educate scientists and engineers and their students on the opportunities and unsolved problems in conservation science. And, to this end, we work to inform conservators, curators, and conservation scientists about the techniques and expertise available in science and engineering, which might be brought to bear on conservation science problems.


The Center is a gateway to Northwestern's numerous research facilities, including those for imaging and advanced chemical analysis, as well as the specialized facilities at the Art Institute of Chicago.


View a complete list of research publications.

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Exploring art, archaeology, and conservation

Project Proposals
The Center collaborates with internal and external partners to conduct research into relevant questions in art, archaeology, and conservation. Previous projects have included studies of paintings, sculptures, artifacts, and Roman Egyptian mummy portraits.

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External project proposals >>

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