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Ellen Hunt


Year of study:


The marriage between science and the arts: Analysis of culturally significant objects containing early synthetic dyes.


Heritage science is a growing and increasingly popular sector of interdisciplinary research, crucial to the preservation and understanding of humankind’s past. The aim of heritage science is to develop analytical, imaging, computational and statistical methods for analysis of culturally significant objects. Whilst the application of analytical chemistry can support the authentication and conservation of historical artifacts, heritage science can also provide insights into wastewater treatment, food and cosmetics.
The use of natural dyes can be traced back to ancient civilisations, with the earliest pigment use found in cave paintings dating back to 30,000BC1. The dye industry underwent a transformative change following the discovery of the first synthetic dye (Mauveine) in 1856 by William Perkin whilst trying to find a synthetic route for an anti-malarial drug. From the invention of Mauveine to the publication of the first edition of the Colour Index in 1924, more than 1200 synthetic organic colourants had been invented2, rendering natural dyes virtually obsolete within a few decades. This poses the analytical challenge of identification and detection of the vast amount and types of dyes present in objects produced in that time-period.
The aim of the present work is to apply analytical methods and techniques to expand the dataset available for early synthetic dyes and provide a multidisciplinary audience an overview of the start to finish process of analysing a culturally significant object.
[1] Abel, A., 24 - The history of dyes and pigments: From natural dyes to high performance pigments. In Woodhead Publishing Series in Textiles, Colour Design (Second Edition), Woodhead Publishing, 557-587 (2012).
[2] Zollinger H. Colour Chemistry: Synthesis, Properties, and Applications of organic dyes and pigments. John Wiley, 6;161 (2003).


Ellen Hunt is a fifth-year integrated master’s student in Chemistry. She grew up in Bangor, Northern Ireland and moved to Glasgow to pursue her passion in science. Ellen has always been drawn to the creative arts and taken up a variety of hobbies to satisfy that itch, including cross-stitch and stained-glass window making. Last year, she embarked on an academic research year abroad in Pisa, Italy where she found the sector of chemistry to apply her creative spark – heritage science. Ellen feels that exploring a unique interdisciplinary subject has deeply enriched her education and has provided her with new perspectives and insights that she hopes to share and apply to her future work.

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