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Postdoctoral Fellowship Opportunity - Metal Carboxylates in Oil Paints

The Northwestern University / Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts (NU- ACCESS) is offering a two-year postdoctoral research scholarship (possibly extendable for a third year) to study the chemistry of zinc soaps: organic/inorganic compounds that form by reaction of the Zn oxide pigment with an oil-based (lipidic) binding medium. The postdoctoral position is funded through the NSF Grant Partnership in International Research and Education (PIRE): Computationally-Based Imaging of Structure in Materials (CuBISM) (NSF-OISE: 2018-2023).

Overall, the grant activities aim to develop computational and experimental tools needed to understand how artworks undergo change over long periods of time. To accomplish this task, a research network has been established between Northwestern University and leaders in cultural heritage science from the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands, the National Research Council in Italy, and the Sychrtron Soleil in France. Therefore, as part of this project, you will join a vibrant community of graduate and undergraduate students at Northwestern University all working on cultural heritage science projects, an experience enhanced by multi-pronged opportunities for extended periods of international exchange and research.

The specific project is a collaboration between Prof. Richard P. Van Duyne at Northwestern University, Dr. Francesca Casadio at the Art Institute of Chicago and Dr. Katrien Keune at the Rijksmuseum/ University of Amsterdam (UvA). While the main place of work will be the laboratories of the Van Duyne group at Northwestern University, the position includes 2/3 residencies of up to 2 months each in the Netherlands, to work with the Keune group. In other words, research will be undertaken at both NU and UvA, allowing the use of the analytics, library, and other resources at both institutions.

One of the fundamental phenomena of deterioration of bio-based coatings used in art making is the formation of metal carboxylate salts (“metal soaps”). It is estimated that around 70% of paintings in museum collections are affected by some form of metal soap-related degradation phenomena. The Netherlands has longstanding expertise in the study of material degradation of paintings, especially in the area of metal soaps in art, yet, despite extensive scrutiny many open questions remain.

With this project, they aim to answer the following fundamental questions:

  1. What are the reaction kinetics of the formation and crystallization of Zn soaps in oil? What is the influence of environmental (T, RH%) and anthropic (solvents) parameters on such reaction pathways and kinetics?
  2. What happens at reaction boundaries between zinc oxide particles and the organic medium? Can we determine the structure (crystalline, amorphous, type of organic acid) and possible orientation of the newly formed zinc soaps at the nanoscale, from vibrational data?

While working mostly with model systems, this project aims to ultimately develop the Quartz Crystal Microbalance (QCM) as a tool to probe reaction kinetics for these organic/inorganic systems in real time. they also aim to connect the micro-mechanical properties of the studied systems with their chemistry, probed with ultra-high sensitivity and nanometer spatial resolution with tip-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (TERS). By solving new scientific problems relevant to cultural heritage science, they can further push the limits of using TERS for complex heterogeneous mixtures of non –resonant molecules. and overall broaden its general use as a nanoscale analytical technique.

Applicants should have a completed Ph.D. in chemistry or a related discipline, and have demonstrated expertise in the use of Raman spectroscopy, SERS, TERS or related spectroscopic techniques, and familiarity with complementary analytical techniques including SEM/EDX, TEM and FTIR microspectroscopy. Ability for self-directed research and a demonstrated record of peer-reviewed publications are essential requirements of the job. Previous work experience in the cultural heritage field is an advantage; an enthusiasm for studying works of art and historic artefacts is essential.

The application, including cover letter, CV, list of publications, and contact information for two references, should be submitted to For inquiries please contact Francesca Casadio (

The deadline for application is June 30, 2018, with a start date anticipated by September 2018.

Northwestern University is an Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action Employer of all protected classes, including veterans and individuals with disabilities. Women, underrepresented racial and ethnic minorities, individuals with disabilities, and veterans are encouraged to apply. Hiring is contingent upon eligibility to work in the United States.