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Painting with the (Periodic) Elements

Junior Kat Andonucci helped put Keuka on the scientific map last fall after her year-long independent study, a photographic portfolio of various chemical elements and experiments, became an art show in Lightner Gallery, was presented to regional chemists, and landed in a national scientific magazine.

Andonucci paints the symbol for lead.

Now, Andonucci has reteamed with Dr. Andrew Robak, associate professor of chemistry, to conduct a new artistic study of some 11 elements of the Periodic Table, creating the letter code for each scientific element with a paint created from the element itself.

Lead in powder form, which Andonucci used to make the paint for the symbol (Pb).

“The overall image is an abstract kind of 3-D Periodic Table and we want it to serve as a permanent reference source in a classroom or lab—it will be a huge art piece,” said the junior visual and verbal art major from Chestertown (near Lake George).

They symbol for carbon, painted with ... carbon.

Using stand-alone 12×12 canvas squares painted with each element, Andonucci will arrange them to hang so that some of the squares appear to be raised and some depressed, creating a more dynamic artwork.

Carbon in particle form.

While some elements, such as arsenic or mercury, would be dangerous to paint with, others, such as barium sulfate, iron oxide, and cadmium have been created already and painted, she said. For example, titanium has been mixed with linseed oil to create the scientific code letters (Ti) for that element  on the table.

According to Robak, all of the pigments Andonucci used to paint the periodic table symbols contain the elements, but are not made from the pure elements. For example, the cadmium pigment utilized a cadmium compound, while the titanium pigment was made from titanium oxide, which is used to make all modern white paints

Egyptian blue in solid form.

Granted, Andonucci has run into a few challenges, such as the three attempts to create the synthetic pigment Egyptian blue, which will be used to represent copper in the table. Historically, pigments were derived from naturally occurring minerals and/or plants. While Egyptian blue was one of the first synthetic pigments made in history, the age of the product and process made it hard to track down anything resembling a specific recipe over the Internet.

“It was on Wikipedia and it wasn’t exact measurements, just percentages, so it was hard to get it exactly right,” she explained. Directions suggested a mixture of sand, natron and copper oxide be baked in an 800 to 900-degree kiln over three to four days. “The first time we [tried,] the oven got above 900 degrees and fried it and it came out black and actually charred. It was a lot of trial and error. We’re up to our third try, but I may try again because it’s not as blue as I wanted it to be.”

Egyptian blue in powder form.

To support her creative work, Andonucci received a $500 Academic Excellence Initiatives grant from the Office of Academic Affairs. Last year, her Art of Chemistry project was also funded $560 from the same competitive grant process.

In September, the Art of Chemistry exhibit was formally presented to members of the Corning Section of the American Chemical Society (ACS) by Robak, who commissioned Andonucci for the project. In addition to the American Chemical Society, Andonucci and Robak’s work drew the attention of Chemical & Engineering News in Washington, D.C., which published a story on the exhibit in its Oct. 1 issue and website.

 

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