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Pigment Synthesis Optimization and Color Quantification

Presentation author(s)

Alyssa Morris, Aurora, Illinois

Major: Biochemistry
Minor: Studio Art


The earliest artists practiced chemistry. From grinding rocks and extracting plant dyes to synthesizing compounds, chemistry and art go hand in hand to provide colors used in everyday life and works of art. Pigments are insoluble particles with distinctive color achieved through a variety of mechanisms, often involving interaction with visible light.

My Honors Term research project entails the synthesis of Prussian blue, madder lake, and malachite pigments. These pigments were selected for their safety, low toxicity, and simple procedures for use in the undergraduate teaching lab. The protocols for the synthesis of these pigments have been optimized to limit waste, yet yield enough for analysis and painting (two-three grams). Areas of optimization included details of filtration, stirring, and recipe (starting material ratios). Carmine lake, alizarin lake, and verdigris were also synthesized but would not be ideal for the teaching lab because of poor yield or color similarity.

In future CHEM 225/MUST 295 Instrumental Analysis courses, students will be able to use these optimized synthesis procedures to make artists’ pigments and analyze their composition by infrared spectroscopy, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, and X-ray diffraction. Students can use synthesized pigments to create color wheels and quantify the color of the paint using reflectance spectroscopy. Color quantification is important for the standardization of color, as people perceive color differently and color effects can change under different conditions (e.g., lighting). This work benefits me by allowing me to develop my independent research skills and benefits future students in these courses.


Kristin Labby

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