Archives for Grant Awards

Trinity College Associate Professor Harry Blaise and Collaborators Inspire Teachers and Young Students

Trinity College received a grant from the Connecticut Health and Educational Facilities Authority (CHEFA) aimed at strengthening curriculum and interest in biomedical sciences. Associate Professor of Engineering Harry Blaise ’94 (Trinity College), Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering Cater Arico (University of Hartford), and Magnet School Theme Coach Jerry Crystal (Capitol Region Education Council Academy of Aerospace and Engineering) served as project leaders.
The grant funded the BME-4-STEM program, BME referring to Biomedical Engineering and STEM signifying the accompanying skills of science, technology, engineering, and math. This initiative created and piloted an innovative middle school biomedical sciences curricula that was developed by college faculty, middle school educators, industry leaders, and undergraduate student STEM leaders, and may well be among the first such broad and collaborative approaches in biomedical sciences in the country.

In a training session at Trinity College this summer were: (L-R) Penny Kelly, science teacher at CREC Academy of Aerospace and Engineering; Harry Blaise, associate professor of engineering, Trinity College; Jerry Crystal, STEM coach, CREC Academy of Aerospace and Engineering; Marjahn Finlayson, science teacher, Talcott Mountain Science Academy; Joseph Palladino, professor of engineering, Trinity College; Jesscia Voight '17, Trinity enigineering major; DavidJohn F. Douglas, science teacher at CREC Medical Professions Academy; Andrea Kwaczala, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, University of Hartford; Hugh Nguyen '17, Trinity engineering major; Jonathan Craig, executive director of Talcott Mountain Science Center; Mary (Cater) Arico, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, University of Hartford; and invited speaker Ulrike Klueh, associate professor, UConn Health Center.

In a training session at Trinity College this summer were: (L-R) Penny Kelly, science teacher at CREC Academy of Aerospace and Engineering; Harry Blaise, associate professor of engineering, Trinity College; Jerry Crystal, STEM coach, CREC Academy of Aerospace and Engineering; Marjahn Finlayson, science teacher, Talcott Mountain Science Academy; Joseph Palladino, professor of engineering, Trinity College; Jesscia Voight ’17, Trinity enigineering major; DavidJohn F. Douglas, science teacher at CREC Medical Professions Academy; Andrea Kwaczala, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, University of Hartford; Hugh Nguyen ’17, Trinity engineering major; Jonathan Craig, executive director of Talcott Mountain Science Center; Mary (Cater) Arico, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, University of Hartford; and invited speaker Ulrike Klueh, associate professor, UConn Health Center.

Through the creation of innovative lesson plans, experiments, and teacher training – first as a pilot program at a local level and ultimately replicated nationally – Blaise and his collaborators seek to educate and excite middle and eventually high school students about biomedical sciences. The project is part of the Hartford.Health.Works. (HHW) portfolio of programs. HHW is the brainchild of BEACON (Biomedical Engineering Alliance and Consortium), Rising-Tide Healthcare, and Movia Robotics. The goal of HHW is to leverage the city’s existing healthcare and technology infrastructure to drive STEM education, entrepreneurism, medical device manufacturing, and workforce development in the city of Hartford. Trinity College joined HHW as the lead education partner, and this is the first grant-funded programmatic initiative.

Crystal recruited local middle school teachers to participate in the summer program, and Arico’s responsibilities included industry outreach as well as curricula development. Both Blaise and Arico recruited engineering faculty and STEM undergraduate student leaders to teach the material to educators during the STEM Teacher Academy. According to Blaise, students from the Metropolitan Learning Center, a CREC school in Bloomfield, Talcott Mountain Science Center, and the Hartford Youth Scholars summer program participated in the program. In addition, “Trinity and University of Hartford students were involved during all phases of the program, including serving as teaching assistants, lab assistants, and program evaluation assistants,” he said.

The grant supported a number of students and teachers interested in biomedical engineering coursework and careers. Blaise recognized the dearth of such curriculum nationwide, especially in low-income school systems like Hartford. Partnering with CREC and programs such as Hartford Youth Scholars allowed BME-4-STEM to reach underserved students.

Blaise, whose current research is focused on the effects of caffeine on memory at the neuronal and synaptic levels, can still recall his own childhood encounters with science, showing that early exposure can often spark a deeper interest. “I built a very crude crystal AM radio when I was about 9 or 10,” he said. “I remember it working, although I was only able to receive one station. Later on, when I was in high school, I used to watch the PBS TV series, The Mechanical Universe. It was a documentary-style show covering geometry, trigonometry, and physics… That was about the time I decided to pursue a career in the STEM field.”

Written by Ursula Paige Granirer ’17

$1.2 Million NSF Grant Extends Reach of Work by Computer Science Professor Ralph Morelli

Trinity College - Mobile Apps Expo - May 24, 2016

Ralph Morelli, Trinity College professor of computer science. Photo by John Atashian.​

A supplemental grant from the National Science Foundation will fund the extension of a project led by Ralph Morelli, Trinity College professor of computer science, to train high school educators to teach an Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles course through the use of app development (Mobile CSP).

This supplemental grant of $1,187,819 will allow Morelli to scale the program to an online classroom and nine satellite locations across the country this summer to instruct high school educators to teach the CSP course. The award to Trinity College includes a sub-award to the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minnesota, which is a partner in the professional development program.

Working with Morelli as the co-principal investigator for the Trinity project is Dr. Chinma Uche, president of the Connecticut chapter of the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA). Pauline Lake ’13 is their full-time teacher consultant and staff member. At St. Scholastica, the PI is Assistant Professor Jennifer Rosato and her co-PI is Professor Chery Takkunen Lucarelli.

“The new high school AP course is designed to reach a broader range of students,” Morelli said. “Computer science is really an important discipline. A lot of jobs require computing skills, but I think it’s even more important than that, given the ubiquity in computing in everything we do now. It’s important that students be studying this: How do computers work? Why are they having these good effects, why are they having these bad effects, and what can we do about them? Pick any field, and you can cite examples of how you need to know some computing.” Acknowledging the need for students of all ages to be exposed to computer science in school, President Obama announced a Computer Science for All initiative earlier this year.

In order for high schools to offer this AP course, teachers first must learn how to teach it. “The NSF started a project to develop curricula for this new course and to train teachers,” Morelli said. “That’s where our funding comes from.” Many high schools do not have dedicated computer science teachers, so teachers from all disciplines may participate in the professional development. “It is a big stretch for some of them,” Morelli said. “The key goal of the summer professional development is to get them confident enough to say, ‘I can teach this.’”

Morelli’s initial grant proposal in 2012 was to train 30 Connecticut teachers over three years using Mobile CSP; that goal was exceeded. In 2014, the NSF awarded another grant to the College of St. Scholastica to scale the Mobile CSP online. “Together we’ve created what’s called a MOOC, a massive open online course, which hosts our materials,” Morelli said. “We use that for the professional development course which we offer to teachers in the summer. Teachers then use that same course in their classrooms.”

Last summer the project trained cohorts of teachers in Manchester, New Hampshire, San Francisco, and Boston. “We ended up training more than 100 teachers altogether,” Morelli said. “This year, with this supplemental funding, we’re going to train 80 teachers online with the funds that go through St. Scholastica, and the Trinity funds go to train 80 teachers that are spread out in different local cohorts. There’s a total of nine of them: New York City; Manchester, New Hampshire; Holyoke, Massachusetts; Kean University in New Jersey; Germanna Community College in Virginia; the University of San Francisco; Bucks County Community College outside of Philadelphia; the University of Delaware; and at Trinity College here in Hartford.” St. Scholastica has already committed to training another120 teachers next year. “The idea is to have our project, together with other projects of the same kind, train something like 10,000 computer science teachers,” Morelli said. “The name of the program we’re funded under in NSF is CS 10K.”

The mobile CSP course has been endorsed by the College Board, so the hundreds of teachers who get this training can then simply submit the Mobile CSP syllabus to the Board and it will be approved as an AP course for their respective schools, Morelli said.

“In the online version of this project, the course meets four weeks entirely online. The teachers are spread out, some in rural areas, and it can be very difficult for them to get professional development like this,” Morelli said. After educators learn how to teach computer science, they will be able to offer the AP CSP class, which means, as Morelli explained, “Students will have access to something they would otherwise not have.”

Written by Andrew J. Concatelli

Joshua Stillwagon Receives Grant from Institute for New Economic Thinking

Joshua Stillwagon, assistant professor of economics at Trinity College, has received a grant from the Institute for New Economic Thinking to continue his research on Imperfect Knowledge Economics. The $37,780 award will extend Stillwagon’s junior faculty leave to a full year.

Stillwagon Web100​According to Stillwagon, there is a prominent debate in the field of financial economics about whether financial markets are efficient or irrational. “My research looks at data of traders’ forecasts of future asset prices, to get a better idea of how they form their expectations,” Stillwagon said. This grant funds the continuation of that ongoing research.

“Most recently I’ve been looking at expectations of traders in the stock market to examine whether they focus on the fundamentals rational theory would imply, such as company earnings, or factors that the behavioral theories would suggest, such as extrapolation,” Stillwagon said. “The research is trying to weigh in on the debate of the rational theory versus behavioral theory. Both could be important, but they are often viewed as mutually exclusive. If you acknowledge there is change over time, then there is room for both of them to enter.”

The rational theory claims that all relevant information is incorporated in the appropriate way into asset prices, Stillwagon explained. The behavioral theory, however, argues that prices often deviate from appropriate values due to traders’ psychological biases. “This research project focuses on a deficiency common to these otherwise diametrically opposed schools of thought: they both presume that the forecasting strategies used by market participants, and therefore the relationship driving asset prices, are completely time invariant or at least changing in only a mechanical, predetermined manner,” Stillwagon said. “This work builds on that of Imperfect Knowledge Economics, which recognizes the pervasiveness of non-routine change and genuine uncertainty.”

This research examines how expectations are influenced by both behavioral and efficient market factors, but allows for structural change over time. “I’ve been working with survey data in other markets. Now we’re doing it in the stock market,” Stillwagon said. “Preliminary results for the stock market suggest that both are relevant for understanding traders’ expectations, but in evolving ways over time.”

Stillwagon is working on this project with Roman Frydman, professor of economics at New York University. “He has done a lot of work in the foreign exchange market, developing the Imperfect Knowledge Economics theory and looking at how the relationships change over time, and I have been doing empirical work with survey data primarily,” Stillwagon said. “Now we’re combining survey data and time-varying relationships for work on the stock market.” This work will be extended to both currency and bond markets.

Written by Andrew J. Concatelli

Gary Reger Receives Competitive NEH Fellowship to Write About Economic History of the Greco-Roman World

Gary Reger, Hobart Professor of Classical Languages at Trinity College, has received an award of $50,400 from the National Endowment for the Humanities through its Fellowship program. The NEH Fellowship program is extremely competitive and prestigious; approximately 7 percent of applicants receive funding. Reger’s grant-supported research project will result in a book that will serve as an introduction to the economic history of the Greek and Roman world, covering the time period of roughly 1200 BCE to 400 CE.

Gary Reger by John Marinelli_MG_3412 Web300Reger said the book will be accessible for general readers and those advanced undergraduate and graduate students studying the Greco-Roman world who want a comprehensive introduction. The book’s sections will include a narrative, a chronological discussion of Greco-Roman economic history, and a series of “case-studies” of focused, specific questions, designed to exploit a wide variety of economic historical matters.

“I will try to show how some of the more recent theoretical and modeling approaches that have shaped or re-shaped the way that we think about the economy in the Greek and Roman world,” Reger said of his research method. “I will do this through a narrative of economic change and continuity over time, and more importantly, through a series of case studies that focus in on very particular times and questions.”

Reger’s goal is for this project to contribute to his field of study and to the humanities more generally. “I’m hoping this book will serve as an entrée into a world that is pretty complicated,” he said. “There is a lot of literature that is not in English, thus not very accessible. I’m hoping I can bring that material to bear, and in the process hopefully get people to ask new types of questions and think in different ways about the problems and issues that are connected to Greek and Roman economic history.”

Reger does not see his research as insulated from his classroom. He welcomes the connection between his research and his teaching. He said, “I think there’s a great deal of student interest in economic history. It’s clear to me that students are interested in this ‘deep past’ question. There’s a lot of interest in economics now while the political process is taking place, students find it interesting to look at similar issues in different historical contexts.”

Written by Josh LeBlanc ’16

Photo by John Marinelli

Taikang Ning Receives Grant to Continue Image Compression Project with Students

With a goal of applying theory to a real-world problem, Trinity College Professor of Engineering Taikang Ning has received funding from Lam Research Foundation to continue his research on the application of discrete-wavelet transform (DWT) to extract signal features and detect faults during wafer fabrication. The grant of $25,000 will support Ning’s work on image compression, which encodes an original digital image using a smaller amount of data storage. Companies in all industries are seeking to store and process data and images in more efficient and cost-effective ways, Ning said.

DSC_3870WebThe collaborative effort between Ning and his students led to the development of a data compression source code that was integrated into the Lam Research Corporation’s beta test to demonstrate the program’s effectiveness. Subsequently, Ning released a jointly published paper with Lam Research in October 2014, and has built a strong working relationship with the organization. This is the third year in which Ning has received funding from Lam Research Foundation.

Ning said that his project proposal was selected eighth out of 20 projects that were funded, from a pool of about 50 applicants. The professor is proud that a small liberal arts college like Trinity was selected by Lam, which typically works with large research universities. “The emphasis of faculty at research universities is often to seek funding to support programs and Ph.D. graduate students,” Ning said. “In our case at Trinity, we as faculty focus solely on undergraduates and we need to know every bit of the technical part before we train our students. Our strength is that we are confident of what we can accomplish before we apply for research funding.”

Ning said that the grant will help provide his students with research opportunities as undergraduates by funding research stipends and equipment needs. “It is a good learning experience for students. They become familiar with the semiconductor industry’s challenges and develop solutions to solve them,” he said. Since DWT is not included in Trinity’s engineering courses, Ning initially spends time with research assistants on a one-on-one basis explaining the theory. Once he gains confidence in a student’s understanding of the concept, he allows the student to work more independently on developing DWT-based compression programs.

This research funding also provides Trinity students with an insight into a possible career path by getting hands-on experience. “To them, it’s learning to engage an industry problem that they would never have a chance to know from class,” Ning said.

Written by Bhumika Choudhary ’18

Abigail Fisher Williamson’s Immigration Policy Survey to be Distributed to Municipal Officials in 1,000 Towns

With an eye toward informing and aiding immigration policymakers at all levels of government, Trinity College Assistant Professor of Political Science and Public Policy and Law Abigail Fisher Williamson will conduct a study called “The U.S. Municipal Responses to Immigrants Survey.”


Trinity College Assistant Professor of Political Science and Public Policy and Law Abigail Fisher Williamson. ​Photo by Antonio Rocha Portraits

Williamson’s work on the nationwide survey and analysis of findings, supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts, is designed to gather information from 1,000 towns about their formal and informal interactions with immigrants.  The project aligns with the Trust’s goals of using knowledge to inform solutions to pressing public policy issues, educating the public, and invigorating civic life.  Williamson believes that a better understanding of local responses to immigrants and the factors that produce them will aid policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels in formulating data-driven solutions that take into account how federal immigration policies affect localities.

As trends in recent decades have shown immigrants dispersing in greater numbers to suburbs and rural areas, rather than settling in traditional gateway cities such as New York and San Francisco, Williamson said that this shift has forced town governments to respond. “In the absence of comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level, a lot of the impetus for change has been pushed down to the local level,” she said. “At this point, when immigrants are arriving in new places, these localities themselves are sort of re-creating the wheel. There’s not really a channel for sharing information about best practices, or about what communities can do to effectively incorporate immigrants, so that’s part of what this survey is going to be about.”

Williamson’s survey is designed to be sent to officials in a stratified random sample of 1,000 towns with populations that are greater than 5,000 and at least 5 percent foreign-born. Williamson surveyed 500 towns in 2014 and will survey an additional 500 towns in 2016. “In each town I’m surveying four different town leaders: the mayor, a randomly selected city councilor, a city manager, and the police chief,” she said. “The idea behind that is that we want to get a sense of not only what the town as a whole is doing, but we suspect there is some variation across different types of leaders.”

The mail survey will be administered by the University of Virginia’s Center for Survey Research. “The questions will be primarily ‘closed-ended,’ such as, ‘How frequently do you translate materials?’ and there will be a range of answers. There also will be some ‘open-ended’ questions, such as, ‘Have we missed any policies that you do that we haven’t asked about?’” she said. “The survey is focused on immigrants in general, but it also asks about distinctions in policies and in views toward unauthorized immigrants.”

The first wave received responses from 74 percent of towns surveyed, with 30 percent of officials responding overall. Williamson plans to launch the second wave of the survey in late January 2016. “I think it will be interesting to do it at the same time as the presidential primaries,” she said. “There’s an increasing body of research that shows that local responses to immigration are shaped by national immigration politics.”

Looking beyond the United States, Williamson said that a worldwide discussion about immigration policy is under way. “Right now we see hundreds of thousands of Syrian and other refugees coming into Europe, and those societies are also asking themselves the question, how do we effectively incorporate immigrants?” she said. “A lot of times people focus a lot on short-term growing pains, but we know that in the long term immigrants tend to bring a lot of vitality and economic development to societies, so the question becomes, how do we minimize short-term growing pains in order to maximize long-term benefits? Looking at the variety of what local governments are doing can help us understand that.”

Williamson is on leave from teaching at Trinity during this academic year while working on the survey and her related book, Beyond the Passage of Time: Local Government Response and Immigrant Incorporation, which is being supported by the Ruth Landes Memorial Research Fund, a program of The Reed Foundation.

Written by Andrew J. Concatelli

Alison Draper Using NSF Grant to Fund Summer STEM Teaching Experience for Undergraduates


Alison J. Draper (center), director of the Trinity Science Center and lecturer in interdisciplinary science, conducts a field research training session last summer with (l-r) Jessica Voight ’17, Connie Ky ’17, Catherine Poirier ’17, and Cassandra Cronin ’17.

Twelve undergraduate students from around the country will come to Trinity College this summer to participate in a new Summer STEM Teaching Experiences for Undergraduates from Liberal Arts Institutions (TEU) program, thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

“The goal of the NSF grant is to increase the number of students from liberal arts institutions who are preparing to teach math and science,” said Trinity Science Center Director Alison J. Draper, who is also a lecturer in interdisciplinary science.

​Draper is a principal investigator on the grant, along with two mathematicians from Vassar College and Bryn Mawr College. The grant of $2,137,727 is being awarded to Vassar, with $685,445 of that going to Trinity. Brown University, Bryn Mawr, and Barnard College are also partners on the grant, which will fund the TEU program for five years.

Undergraduate students from a network of about 60 liberal arts colleges and universities, Trinity students included, are eligible to apply for the program. Twelve students will participate in a mathematics TEU program at Brown, and 12 will participate in a science TEU program at Trinity, teaching science workshops to 10th-grade students from Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy. The grant also will pay for instructors who will train the undergraduates to teach high school students and will supervise them in the classroom and in the field.

As part of Trinity and HMTCA’s ongoing education partnership, students must take a writing workshop before 9th grade and a science workshop before 10th grade to maintain a spot in the award-winning magnet school. The summer science workshop has been held at Trinity for the past four years. “Our goal for the science workshop was to model how science was done in the real world,” Draper said. With a Connecticut Health and Educational Facilities Authority grant last summer, Draper trained eight Trinity students to teach the HMTCA workshops. “What will be different under NSF is that the undergrads won’t be necessarily from Trinity,” Draper said.

Robert Cotto, Jr.obert Cotto, Jr., director of urban educational initiatives and lecturer in educational studies at Trinity, said that one of the motivations for the HMTCA partnership is to allow high school students to have a positive, early experience on a college campus. The new TEU program will help to build that relationship and to expand its benefits to undergraduates from many other colleges. “This is a perfect example of how we’re able to be a liberal arts college and leverage our position as being in a city and having different partnerships already on the ground that not only Trinity students can take advantage of but now even a national group of students can participate in,” Cotto said.

The program also will serve as a way to develop and to test a model that can be shared and duplicated. Draper said, “We would really like other institutions in other parts of the country to be able to pick up this model and mount their own program. We think it’s a good idea, and it serves a whole bunch of purposes all at once. We’re serving the purposes of HMTCA, but we’re also serving our own students and students at partner institutions, so it’s a win-win-win.”

Written by Andrew J. Concatelli

Christopher Hager Receives Grant from National Endowment for the Humanities

ProfChrisHagerChristopher Hager, associate professor of English at Trinity College, is the recipient of a Public Scholars Program grant award from the National Endowment for the Humanities. As a Schaenen visiting scholar at the Prindle Institute for Ethics at DePauw University in Indiana this semester, Hager is writing for the publication, The Prindle Post, in addition to teaching an English course, leading a book discussion group on Danielle Allen’s Our Declaration, and working on his research.

Hager’s research was featured in an Inside Higher Ed story on Public Scholars. According to the article, he “plans on using the narratives he finds in Civil War letters to translate the historical facts surrounding the war and the evolution of letter writing during the era to the general public.”

Thanks to this award, Hager will be able to focus full time on writing his manuscript next semester. “I think that finding ways I can make the kind of research that I do stimulating to undergraduates is the same kind of skill that I hope to use in making that research accessible and engaging to readers of books,” said Hager.

This is the third recognition Hager has received from the National Endowment for the Humanities. This past summer, Hager was awarded a stipend supporting his work on the epistolary culture of the U.S. Civil War. He also received a full-year fellowship in 2010.

Coming from an academic home like Trinity, where he has taught for eight years, Hager’s scholarly work is not only supported, but welcomed into the classroom as well. “What’s great about teaching at a place like Trinity is that it has always challenged me to find ways to make the research that I do engaging and accessible to my students,” said Hager, who will return to Trinity in the fall of 2016.

Written by Eleanor Worsley ’17

Timothy Curran Awarded NSF Grant to Study Protein Shapes Using New Molecule

Curran research group summer 2015

The Curran Research Group for Summer 2015. Front row: Timothy P. Curran and Joe Sanderson-Brown ’18. Back row: Paul Handali ’18, Vu Nguyen ’17, Elena-Marie Pedro ’17, and Jack Suitor (University of Edinburgh).

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a $234,957 grant to Trinity College Professor of Chemistry Timothy P. Curran to examine a potential new method of creating protein shapes called beta-sheets, which may have implications for understanding amyloid diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. Curran is the principal investigator of the project, “RUI: Investigations of a Novel, Bimetallic Ring System for Nucleating Beta-Sheets.”

The beta-sheet protein shape, Curran said, “is found in the protein plaques that form in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, clogging the brain’s neurons.” With this grant-funded project, Curran plans to investigate how these beta-sheets form and how they might be broken up.

Curran and his undergraduate students have discovered a cyclic, air-stable molecule that includes the metals tungsten and iron, which can position two protein chains next to each other as found in beta-sheets. “We have a model chemical system that we think might be able to generate beta-sheets, and then examine how they aggregate,” he said. “Long-range, this could help combat diseases like Alzheimer’s.”

In addition to funding Curran’s research, the grant also includes funds to support three students for three summers and allows them to travel with Curran. “This grant offers a great opportunity for students,” he said.

Curran, chair of Trinity’s Chemistry Department, spent this past summer working with Trinity students from all over the world. “They were from Trinidad, Great Britain, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Windsor, Connecticut,” said Curran, who is a resident of Wethersfield.

Curran said that his students were partly responsible for leading him to the particular line of inquiry pursued by this project. “This one came about because Allison Lawrence ’10 in my lab made a discovery about this molecule that had a particular shape,” he said. “In our lab, we make molecules that no one has ever made before. A student who makes a new molecule in my lab is the first person in the history of the planet to make that molecule. It’s one of the ways they can be unique.”

Many undergraduate students use their time in Curran’s laboratory to get a sense of what conducting scientific research is like. “They can see if they’re good at it and whether they like it or not,” Curran said. “You have to have a thick skin. Things won’t work all the time, and there are lots of unexpected problems that come up. You see quickly if they like working their way through the problems.”

Involving students in research has always been important to Curran, who hopes to inspire a new generation of scientists. “I wanted to work at a school like Trinity because I started in science by having people let me work in their labs in the summertime, and I wanted to do the same thing for other students,” he said. “I like seeing students succeed.”

Written by Andrew J. Concatelli

Henry DePhillips and Undergraduate Students Use Cutting-Edge Chemistry to Analyze Art


L-R: Henry DePhillips, Vernon K. Krieble Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus; Sara Talcott ’17, and Jacqueline Busa ’17.

Henry DePhillips, Vernon K. Krieble Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus, has been retired for almost three years, but his pace has hardly slowed. He still has a lab and office on campus and still works with students in the field of conservation science. Now, with the support of the Dreyfus Foundation’s Senior Scientist Mentor Program, DePhillips is training two undergraduate students in a cutting-edge method for analyzing paint samples without excessively disturbing historic works of art.

​The technique, called direct analysis at room temperature, is the most current method available for analyzing the varnishes and binders used in easel paintings. The practice involves taking an extremely small sample from the painting, which allows conservation scientists to avoid invasive research on potentially priceless artworks.

The Dreyfus Grant will go to support Sara Talcott ’17 and Jacqueline Busa ’17, both sophomore chemistry majors spending the next two summers on campus studying and perfecting this technique. Having learned the basics, Talcott and Busa have been testing paints they mixed themselves. Next, they will work with older paint samples that they already know the composition of before moving on to analyzing unknown samples and paintings.

Conservation science is a valuable tool for art dealers and collectors attempting to confirm the authenticity of paintings, but DePhillips is not in the business of identifying forgeries. Instead, he provides people with objective information about the materials used in a piece of art. It’s a field that DePhillips has spent half of his career working in and continues to teach in his Science & Art course at Trinity’s Rome campus, which he’s done since 2005.

DePhillips looks forward to working remotely with Busa and Talcott this summer, confident that they have the talent and experience to move forward while he teaches in Italy. In the end, they hope to compile information useful to conservationists and publish a library of their findings. Working at the nexus of science and art has been incredibly rewarding for DePhillips.

“It’s the best of both worlds,” he said. “The people in the art field have incredible personalities and they’re wonderful to work with, and the people in this [chemistry] department are just the best.”

In addition to his colleagues, DePhillips is proud of his collaboration with undergraduates at the intersection of two different fields.

“That’s what a liberal arts college is supposed to foster,” he said. “I always tell students ‘Do what you’re passionate about.’ That’s why I’ve been at this for 52 years.”

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