Art as Context for General Chemistry

Whitman College
City, State: 
Walla Walla, WA
Deberah Simon, Machelle Hartman, Pat Hill
04 Jun 2017 - 09 Jun 2017



Sunday evening: Reception
Monday-Thursday: Full days
Friday a.m.: Half day, and departure

This workshop has been presented 14 times with great success, attracting participants such as science faculty, art faculty, museum curators, conservators and education faculty, coming from 2-year and 4-year colleges, and universities. The 2016 workshop will deviate slightly from past workshops because it will emphasize the role of chemistry and art in the general chemistry curriculum. Whether you are looking to revitalize your entire General Chemistry laboratory curriculum or just want to update a few experiments, this workshop is for you!

Over ten years ago two of our workshop facilitators transformed a very traditional chemistry majors’ general chemistry lab class by incorporating chemistry in art topics in real-world, scenario-driven activities. More than two-thirds of the labs utilize the chemistry of art and artists’ materials to convey both the depth and breadth of standard general chemistry principles and technical lab skills expected in a General Chemistry majors’ course. Since then over 1500 students have experienced these high interest labs and have overwhelmingly rated them positively.

The two semesters of labs cover all the usual general chemistry topics, and work with any typical general chemistry textbook. Topics include qualitative, gravimetric and volumetric analysis, chemical synthesis, spectroscopy, acid-base chemistry, kinetics, thermochemistry, and electrochemistry. In addition to keeping the skills and rigor of a majors’ class, the labs also emphasize communication to various audiences and graphical skills.
Here are a few of the lab activities to give you an idea of what you can expect:

  • “Microchemical Analysis of Museum Objects” (Qualitative Analysis)
  • “The Dyer’s Dilemma” (Beer’s Law)
  • “Dyer’s Waste Clean-up” (Titrations)
  • “Cyanotypes: Alternative Photography” (Redox & Photochemistry)
  • “Anodized Aluminum and Etched Brass Jewelry” (Redox & Electrochemistry)
  • “Soapmaking” (Acid/Base)
  • “Fresco” (Salts & Solubility)
  • “Decolorization of Dyes” (Kinetics)

These same concepts can be extended into specialty courses (for majors or non-majors), upper-level courses and individual student research. They are especially appropriate for instrumental analysis courses.

The broad-ranging workshop provides participants with a perspective on the role of chemistry in diverse fields, crossing academic disciplines, but with strong foundations in inorganic, physical and analytical chemistry. The course is grounded in laboratory experience, and includes field trips.
Sunday: Linking Chemistry and Art in the Curriculum. The workshop begins at noon with a welcome lunch and introductions. Participants explore and set personal workshop goals while getting an overview of workshop activities and resources available to them. Lecture and lab activities focus on the importance of light and color in the study of art and art materials, as well as the interdisciplinary nature of chemistry and art.

Monday through Thursday: A mixture of lectures and laboratory activities, with emphasis on application of materials to teaching of general chemistry, in the following topical areas:

  • Colorants and Painting Media.
  • Paper, Fibers, and Dyes
  • Metals, Glass and Ceramics
  • Ancient to Modern Materials (polymers, photographic chemistry)

Friday: Wrap-up Day. No chemistry and art workshop would be complete without informal presentations where workshop participants will be encouraged to share what they plan to do when they return to their home institution. A Workshop Evaluation Form will be completed by each participant prior to departure. The workshop ends at noon on Friday.