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Conservation Science


A painting is being scanned by a large machine. An alternate view of the painting is seen in an adjacent computer screen.

Tasked with research on material aspects of the museum’s vast collection of diverse artworks, conservation scientists use a variety of scientific tools, adapted from the fields of medicine, forensics, geology, and computer science, among many others, to undertake a broad range of activities that reveal fascinating aspects of the objects’ biographies and inform their treatment and preservation.

Our work includes the characterization of artists’ materials and techniques, testing of display and storage environments, and analysis of conservation materials in support of treatments. We do this work in close collaboration with the museum’s conservators and curators and, on occasion, with manufacturers of artists’ materials and the artists themselves. The science laboratories are equipped with advanced analytical instrumentation for the investigation of all possible materials used by artists—including pigments, binding media, plastics, metal alloys, glass, and ceramics—as well as those used by conservators. We regularly collaborate with Chicago-based research facilities as well as an international community of colleagues, and work with fellows, interns, and visiting scientists hosted each year by the Department of Conservation and Science.


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