One such technique is pyrolysis gas-chromatography mass spectrometry, a method of chemical analysis that I am using in a research project focused on the study of ebony wood specimens. The goal of the project, which I am working on with conservator Arlen Heginbotham and GCI scientist Michael Schilling, is to be able to differentiate species of wood in the Diospyros genus, as these species are often indistinguishable through visual examination. Identifying ebony species in objects could provide important information about the object's history, as well as a greater understanding of historical trade routes. One aspect of the project that I would never have expected to be a part of my third-year experience has been the need to learn Python, a computer programming language. As I work with large, complex data sets, I have found that it is an important skill in order to be able to utilize machine-learning algorithms (which can change, or learn, when exposed to new data) in order to classify samples.
My research also relates to an upcoming project, the examination and treatment of a 17th-century cabinet with pietre dure inlay and ebony components (fig. 1). The Borghese-Windsor Cabinet, made in 1620 in Rome for Pope Paul V and later purchased by King George IV of England, was recently acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum. I am fortunate enough to be a part of the team of conservators, which includes my supervisors Arlen Heginbotham, Julie Wolfe, and Jane Bassett, who will be responsible for preparing this magnificent piece of furniture for display. Comprised of wood, silver, gilt-bronze, and a variety of decorative stones including lapis lazuli (fig. 2), this cabinet will challenge me to combine the treatment, documentation, and analytical techniques that I learned as an objects major at WUDPAC with the new techniques that I am being exposed to at the Getty. The size and complexity of this object also means that this will be a highly collaborative treatment, drawing on the expertise of each conservator in the lab. As we begin to examine the cabinet, I am looking forward to uncovering new treatment and research questions with my colleagues and am excited to be spending my third-year at an institution where exploring these lines of inquiry is not only possible, but also highly encouraged.
—Madeline Corona, WUDPAC Class of 2017