PubSci Explores the Intersection of Science and Art

Brookhaven Lab's science cafe and conversation series teamed up with the Parrish Art Museum for a special spin-off event

The evening's panelists enlarge

The evening's panelists (pictured left to right): Terrie Sultan, Silvia Centeno, Karen Chen-Wiegart, and Juergen Thieme.

On the evening of Sept. 21, 2018, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory held its 10th installment of PubSci, the Lab’s science café and conversation series. PubSci typically brings Brookhaven scientists and their collaborators to local bars and restaurants to discuss the Lab’s research in a casual environment. This time, PubSci headed to the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, New York, to discuss the intersection of science and art during an event titled “Illumination: Revealing the Secret Chemistry of Oil Paintings.”

The evening’s panel featured two scientists with joint appointments at Brookhaven Lab and Stony Brook University: Juergen Thieme and Karen Chen-Wiegart. The pair are staff scientists at Brookhaven Lab’s National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), a DOE Office of Science User Facility at Brookhaven and one of the most advanced synchrotron light sources in the world. They were joined by Silvia Centeno, a research scientist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and Terrie Sultan, the director of the Parrish Art Museum.

Thieme and Chen-Weigart first met Centeno back in 2017, when she came to NSLS-II to conduct research on a 15th-century oil painting, Jan Van Eyck’s The Crucifixion. The team used NSLS-II’s ultrabright x-ray light to illuminate chemical changes in a microscopic sample of the painting, and to determine how these chemical reactions caused the formation of “soaps,” which degrade the appearance of artwork. The team’s work on The Crucifixion was the central topic of this special edition of PubSci, called PubSci at the Parrish.

More than 100 community members attended enlarge

More than 100 community members attended PubSci at the Parrish.

More than 100 community members attended PubSci at the Parrish, and the audience offered up many questions on the scientific research and methods of artwork conservation, framing a lively discussion around the intersections of science and art. Sultan offered her perspective on artwork degradation, the difference between artwork preservation and conservation, and the impact scientists and artists can have on each other’s work.

Since 2014, PubSci has offered the public a chance to see a more casual side of the cutting-edge research happening every day at Brookhaven Lab, and chat with scientists over a drink. The series hops around Long Island, covering different topics from the Big Bang to tomorrow’s technologies. Stay tuned for an announcement on the next PubSci!

Brookhaven National Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit

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2018-13129  |  INT/EXT  |  Newsroom