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Group from W&L works to save iconic paintings

Published On: Aug 19 2013 05:42:52 PM EDT   Updated On: Aug 19 2013 11:59:46 PM EDT

It's a chemistry professor, not art historian, who's leading the charge

This summer a Washington and Lee professor and his students examined the Edvard Munch painting, "The Scream."

The work looks at this one piece of art, but could stop the aging process in many.

Erich Uffelman is a classically trained chemist, but you won't find him in a lab with beakers and Bunsen burners.
Instead he's setting up shop in museums all over the world.

"One aspect of the work is that some of the pigments in these works do undergo chemical change with time, so the appearance of the art work changes," he explains.

Things like light, time, and the environment can have detrimental effects on a work of art.

Says Uffelman, "They need to know the composition of the cultural heritage objects they're working with and that knowledge can help them with treating the painting or treating the object."

Uffelman uses tools to provide information to curators, historian and conservators.
That information could help attribute a piece to a certain artist, give people a better idea of a work's true colors and even help prevent those colors from breaking down.

"This technology allows us to gain information on the chemical composition of the painting without actually moving anything from the painting or the cultural heritage object," he explains.

While there are many methods out there, Uffelman's aren't destructive.
He has no contact and doesn't remove a sample.

"It's wonderful technology because it allows us to gain information without changing or affecting the work of art. It's very powerful," Uffelman says.

It's rewarding work.
And, while Uffelman realizes there's only so much he can do, he says if you understand how a process occurs, you have a better chance at stopping it.