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The Chemical Educator

ISSN: 1430-4171 (electronic version)

Table of Contents

Abstract Volume 29 (2024) pp 101-109

Mixing Chemistry and Art: Exploring Azeotrope Mixtures Used to Clean Paintings in Art Conservation

William Villarreal, Megan Hicks, Jorge De La Cerda, Gregory D. Smith, Adrian Villalta-Cerdas†,*

†Department of Chemistry, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas 77341,; ‡Conservation Science Laboratory, Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, 4000 Michigan Road, Indianapolis, Indiana 46208
Received January 29, 2024. Accepted February 27, 2024.

Published: 20 May 2024

Abstract. Bridging the interface between art conservation and chemistry education, this work presents an innovative science learning experience derived from the practice of art conservators. The safe removal of aged varnishes and overpaint from artworks without damaging the original paint hinges on the precise utilization of solvent mixtures that navigate solubility differences between unwanted coating and the original paint. However, differential evaporation rates of the solvent components from the artwork surface can compromise these mixtures, leading to too aggressive dissolution or ineffectively weak mixtures. Learners can delve into the scientific aspects of art conservation by focusing on azeotropic solvent blends, specifically those of isopropanol with n-hexane and 2-butanone with cyclohexane, which should evaporate at a constant composition. Using methodologies like gravimetric analysis, refractive index, vapor pressure measurements, and gas chromatography, students observe the compositional changes of these blends during evaporation at room temperature. Inspired by research at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, this learning experience emphasizes the hands-on application of chemistry in art conservation.

Key Words: Laboratories and Demonstrations; organic chemistry; art conservation science; azeotropes; azeotropic solvent blends; evaporation behavior

(*) Corresponding author. (E-mail:

Article in PDF formatt(331 KB) HTML fomat

Supporting Materials:

Procedural guidelines for each experimental determination are available within the supplementary materials. Additionally, representative data are included to demonstrate the calculations of the azeotropic point for the isopropanol:n-hexane system at room temperature. (222 KB)

The Chemical Educator 1996-2024