“It starts with burning coal and ends with psychology,” says Assistant Professor of Chemistry Chris Durr, standing with his students around an 18th-century painting in his latest laboratory: the Mead Art Museum.
He is explaining one way a scientist might look at art appreciation, a path from subatomic particles to the emotions.
“Somewhere there is a fossil-fuel plant burning coal that sends electricity to these lights. And these lights have gasses in them which produce a cool, white light,” he tells students. “That goes into the pigment of that painting, interacts with all these different pigments that the artist painstakingly chose and painstakingly applied to that piece of canvas, and the light hits that pigment and comes back to your eye as red, or blue, or black.”