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Jul. 1, 2012
Remember the Chemistry
Professor Michelle Bushey analyzes components of The Alamo while maintaining her chemical separation research
SAN ANTONIO - Who knew that The Alamo was a chemistry laboratory? Trinity University professor Michelle Bushey did and has spent part of the last two summers scaling scaffolds and balancing hand-held X-ray equipment to capture images that will help reveal characteristics of artwork painted centuries ago on the walls of the Shrine of Texas Liberty.
Bushey has been assisted by senior Madeline Corona, a chemistry and art history major who is interested in a career in art conservation. Together, they are using a portable X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometer, obtained with funding from the National Science Foundation, to examine historical objects and structures. It is a painstaking process that requires climbing scaffolds or moveable lifts to reach, for example, the ceiling of the Alamo sacristy. "Last year, we took 90-second measurements, but the instrument is hard to hold. This year, after positioning the XRF, we are taking 15-second measurements," Bushey said. She plans to prepare her findings for journal publication. An analytical chemist, Bushey has expanded her research from chemical separations to the analysis of art and artifacts. She has examined orange, white, blue, and green striations that contain the elements mercury, iron, lead, and copper. Her goal is to identify the pigments based on the detectable elements in hopes of discovering whether they are original wall decorations and also how they relate to pigments used at San Antonio's other missions. The answers could be useful for preservationists and historians studying the extent of mission decoration.
In the summer of 2011, she and Corona also collaborated at the San Antonio Museum of Art to analyze materials used to fashion pottery, sculpture, and other museum pieces. Information provided by their work also will aid in preservation and provide new insights into many of the artworks.
Arriving at Trinity in 1990, Bushey's focus was on the separation technique known as capillary electrophoresis, and her work continues in that area, evolving to include other capillary separation approaches. This summer, with the help of five student researchers, she is conducting fundamental studies into how a new type of separation system works by examining the interactions of an array of analytes with a polymeric material prepared in their lab. The chemists are testing a theory that was first described in 1983. No separation system ever has been shown to behave as the theory predicts, but the system being investigated in her lab does seem to follow the theoretical behavior. Another paper is envisioned for this aspect of her work.
At Trinity, Bushey has received more than $1 million for research and instrumentation from the National Science Foundation, the Petroleum Research Fund, and the Welch Foundation. In addition, she was a Camille and Henry Dreyfus Scholar-Fellow from 2003 to 2005. She was recently accepted to the 2012-2013 Higher Education Resource Services (HERS) Wellesley Institute, a collaborative leadership program that will span four long weekends during the upcoming academic year.
Bushey welcomes collaborations because of the opportunities they offer. After developing a Chemistry of Art course with art professor Kate Ritson, Bushey pursued a grant proposal that resulted in acquiring the XRF equipment. "(Collaborations) teach you that when opportunities come up, (you should) try to say 'yes' to them because they lead to other things that are a lot of fun," she said. She also has helped secure funding for science scholarships for the FAST and FASTER grant programs and also has worked with fellow chemists, biologists, physicists, engineers, and geoscientists on a variety of research projects and collaborative grant proposals.
Always a science lover, she majored in chemistry - taking one semester off to consider a biology major - and served in the Peace Corps in Kenya from 1983 to 1984, when she met and married her husband, before completing graduate school. Now, that's perfect chemistry.
Advanced Analytical Methods
Chemistry in the Modern World
The Chemistry of Crime
The Chemistry of Art
First Year Seminar: Gods, Scientists, and Monsters
M.M. Bushey, Capillary electrophoresis and high performance liquid chromatography experiments throughout the undergraduate curriculum. Assessment of a multi-year, multi-course project, Journal of Chemical Education, 86(3), 332 (2009).
G.J. Anderson, Z. LaPier, M.B. Cammarata, T.S. Cullum, M.M. Bushey, Peak parking determination of the obstruction factor in lauryl acrylate monolithic CEC columns, Electrophoresis, 31, 1583-1585 (2010).
B.L. Waguespack, S.A. Hodges*, M.E. Bush*, L.J. Sondergeld*, M.M. Bushey Capillary Electrochromatography Column Behavior of Butyl and Lauryl Acrylate Porous Polymer Monoliths, Journal of Chromatography A, 1078(1-2), 171-180, (2005).
M.M. Bushey, K. Ritson, Unusual Partners Open Interesting Opportunities: Blending Chemistry and Art, CUR 2010, Ogden, UT June 19-22, 2010.
M.R. Brodl, M.M. Bushey, C.W. Scholz, D.R. Smith, Undergraduate Research at Trinity University: Where we have been, Where we are, Where we are going, CUR 2010, Ogden, UT, June 19-22, 2010.
M.M. Bushey, Grant Proposal Development in the Sciences, Associated Colleges of the South Virtual Workshop, Oct. 29, 2010.