Tag Archives: 97th annual Canadian Chemistry Conference and Exhibition

Art (Lawren Harris and the Group of Seven), science (Raman spectroscopic examinations), and other collisions at the 2014 Canadian Chemistry Conference (part 2 of 4)

Testing the sample and Raman fingerprints

The first stage of the June 3, 2010 test of David Robertson’s Autumn Harbour, required taking a tiny sample from the painting,. These samples are usually a fleck of a few microns (millionths of an inch), which can then be tested to ensure the lasers are set at the correct level assuring no danger of damage to the painting. (Robertson extracted the sample himself prior to arriving at the conference. He did not allow anyone else to touch his purported Harris before, during, or after the test.)

Here’s how ProSpect* Scientific describes the ‘rehearsal’ test on the paint chip,

Tests on this chip were done simply to ensure we knew what power levels were safe for use on the painting.  While David R stated he believed the painting was oil on canvas without lacquer, we were not entirely certain of that.  Lacquer tends to be easier to burn than oil pigments and so we wanted to work with this chip just to be entirely certain there was no risk to the painting itself.

The preliminary (rehearsal) test resulted in a line graph that showed the frequencies of the various pigments in the test sample. Titanium dioxide, for example, was detected and its frequency (spectra) reflected on the graph.

I found this example of a line graph representing the spectra (fingerprint) for a molecule of an ultramarine (blue) pigment along with a general explanation of a Raman ‘fingerprint’. There is no indication as to where the ultramarine pigment was obtained. From the  WebExhibits.org website featuring a section on Pigments through the Ages and a webpage on Spectroscopy,


Ultramarine [downloaded from http://www.webexhibits.org/pigments/intro/spectroscopy.html]

Raman spectra consist of sharp bands whose position and height are characteristic of the specific molecule in the sample. Each line of the spectrum corresponds to a specific vibrational mode of the chemical bonds in the molecule. Since each type of molecule has its own Raman spectrum, this can be used to characterize molecular structure and identify chemical compounds.

Most people don’t realize that the chemical signature (spectra) for pigment can change over time with new pigments being introduced. Finding a pigment that was on the market from 1970 onwards in a painting by Jackson Pollock who died in 1956 suggests strongly that the painting couldn’t have come from Pollock’s hand. (See Michael Shnayerson’s May 2012 article, A Question of Provenance, in Vanity Fair for more about the Pollock painting. The article details the fall of a fabled New York art gallery that had been in business prior to the US Civil War.)

The ability to identify a pigment’s molecular fingerprint means that an examination by Raman spectroscopy can be part of an authentication, a restoration, or a conservation process. Here is how a representative from ProSpect Scientific describes the process,

Raman spectroscopy is non-destructive (when conducted at the proper power levels) and identifies the molecular components in the pigments, allowing characterization of the pigments for proper restoration or validation by comparison with other pigments of the same place/time. It is valuable to art institutions and conservators because it can do this.  In most cases of authentication Raman spectroscopy is one of many tools used and not the first in line. A painting would be first viewed by art experts for technique, format etc, then most often analysed with IR or X-Ray, then perhaps Raman spectroscopy. It is impossible to use Raman spectroscopy to prove authenticity as paint pigments are usually not unique to any particular painter.  Most often Raman spectroscopy is used by conservators to determine proper pigments for appropriate restoration.  Sometimes Raman will tell us that the pigment isn’t from the time/era the painting is purported to be from (anachronisms).

Autumn Harbour test

Getting back to the June 3, 2014 tests, once the levels were set then it was time to examine Autumn Harbour itself to determine the spectra for the various pigments.  ProSpect Scientific has provided an explanation of the process,

This spectrometer was equipped with an extension that allowed delivery of the laser and collection of the scattered light at a point other than directly under the microscope. We could also have used a flexible fibre optic probe for this, but this device is slightly more efficient. This allowed us to position the delivery/collection point for the light just above the painting at the spot we wished to test. For this test, we don’t sweep across the surface, we test a small pinpoint that we feel is a pigment of the target colour.

We only use one laser at a time. The system is built so we can easily select one laser or another, depending on what we wish to look at. Some researchers have 3 or 4 lasers in their system because different lasers provide a better/worse raman spectrum depending on the nature of the sample. In this case we principally used the 785nm laser as it is better for samples that exhibit fluorescence at visible wavelengths. 532nm is a visible wavelength.  For samples that didn’t produce good signal we tried the 532nm laser as it produces better signal to noise than 785nm, generally speaking. I believe the usable results in our case were obtained with the 785nm laser.

The graphed Raman spectra shows peaks for the frequency of scattered light that we collect from the laser-illuminated sample (when shining a laser on a sample the vast majority of light is scattered in the same frequency of the laser, but a very small amount is scattered at different frequencies unique to the molecules in the sample). Those frequencies correspond to and identify molecules in the sample. We use a database (on the computer attached to the spectrometer) to pattern match the spectra to identify the constituents.

One would have thought ‘game over’ at this point. According to some informal sources, Canada has a very small (almost nonexistent) data bank of information about pigments used in its important paintings. For example, the federal government’s Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) has a very small database of pigments and nothing from Lawren Harris paintings [See the CCI’s response in this addendum], so the chances that David Robertson would have been able to find a record of pigments used by Lawren Harris roughly in the same time period that Autumn Harbour seems to have been painted are not good.

Everything changes

In a stunning turn of events and despite the lack of enthusiasm from Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) curator, Ian Thom, on Wednesday, June 4, 2014 the owner of the authenticated Harris, Hurdy Gurdy, relented and brought the painting in for tests.

Here’s what the folks from ProSpect Scientific had to say about the comparison,

Many pigments were evaluated. Good spectra were obtained for blue and white. The blue pigment matched on both paintings, the white didn’t match. We didn’t get useful Raman spectra from other pigments. We had limited time, with more time we might fine tune and get more data.

One might be tempted to say that the results were 50/50 with one matching and the other not, The response from the representative of ProSpect Scientific is more measured,

We noted that the mineral used in the pigment was the same.  Beyond that is interpretation:  Richard offered the view that lapis-lazuli was a typical and characteristic component for blue in that time period (early 1900’s).   We saw different molecules in the whites used in the two paintings, and Richard offered that both were characteristic of the early 1900’s.

Part 1

Part 3

Part 4

* ‘ProsPect’ changed to ‘ProSpect’ on June 30, 2014.

ETA July 14, 2014 at 1300 hours PDT: There is now an addendum to this series, which features a reply from the Canadian Conservation Institute to a query about art pigments used by Canadian artists and access to a database of information about them.

Lawren Harris (Group of Seven), art authentication, and the Canadian Conservation Insitute (addendum to four-part series)


Art (Lawren Harris and the Group of Seven), science (Raman spectroscopic examinations), and other collisions at the 2014 Canadian Chemistry Conference (part 1 of 4)

One wouldn’t expect the 97th Canadian Chemistry Conference held in Vancouver, Canada from  June 1 – 5, 2014 to be an emotional rollercoaster. One would be wrong. Chemists and members of the art scene are not only different from thee and me, they are different from each other.

Setting the scene

It started with a May 30, 2014 Simon Fraser University (SFU) news release,

During the conference, ProSpect Scientific has arranged for an examination of two Canadian oil paintings; one is an original Lawren Harris (Group of Seven) titled “Hurdy Gurdy” while the other is a painting called “Autumn Harbour” that bears many of Harris’s painting techniques. It was found in Bala, Ontario, an area that was known to have been frequented by Harris.

Using Raman Spectroscopy equipment manufactured by Renishaw (Canada), Dr. Richard Bormett will determine whether the paint from both works of art was painted from the same tube of paint.

As it turns out, the news release got it somewhat wrong. Raman spectroscopy testing does not make it possible to* determine whether the paints came from the same tube, the same batch, or even the same brand. Nonetheless, it is an important tool for art authentication, restoration and/or conservation and both paintings were scheduled for testing on Tuesday, June 3, 2014. But that was not to be.

The owner of the authenticated Harris (Hurdy Gurdy) rescinded permission. No one was sure why but the publication of a June 2, 2014 article by Nick Wells for Metro News Vancouver probably didn’t help in a situation that was already somewhat fraught. The print version of the Wells article titled, “A fraud or a find?” showed only one painting “Hurdy Gurdy” and for anyone reading quickly, it might have seemed that the Hurdy Gurdy painting was the one that could be “a fraud or a find.”

The dramatically titled article no longer seems to be online but there is one (also bylined by Nick Wells) dated June 1, 2014 titled, Chemists in Vancouver to use lasers to verify Group of Seven painting. It features (assuming it is still available online) images of both paintings, the purported Harris (Autumn Harbour) and the authenticated Harris (Hurdy Gurdy),

"Autumn Harbour" [downloaded from http://metronews.ca/news/vancouver/1051693/chemists-in-vancouver-to-use-lasers-to-verify-group-of-seven-painting/]

“Autumn Harbour” [downloaded from http://metronews.ca/news/vancouver/1051693/chemists-in-vancouver-to-use-lasers-to-verify-group-of-seven-painting/]

Heffel Fine Art Auction

Lawren Harris’‚ Hurdy Gurdy, a depiction of Toronto’s Ward district is shown in this handout image. [downloaded from http://metronews.ca/news/vancouver/1051693/chemists-in-vancouver-to-use-lasers-to-verify-group-of-seven-painting/]

David Robertson who owns the purported Harris (Autumn Harbour) and is an outsider vis à vis the Canadian art world, has been trying to convince people for years that the painting he found in Bala, Ontario is a “Lawren Harris” painting. For anyone unfamiliar with the “Group of Seven” of which Lawren Harris was a founding member, this group is legendary to many Canadians and is the single most recognized name in Canadian art history (although some might argue that status for Emily Carr and/or Tom Thomson; both of whom have been, on occasion, honorarily included in the Group).  Robertson’s incentive to prove “Autumn Harbour” is a Harris could be described as monetary and/or prestige-oriented and/or a desire to make history.

The owner of the authenticated Harris “Hurdy Gurdy” could also be described as an outsider of sorts [unconfirmed at the time of publication; a June 26, 2014 query is outstanding], gaining entry to that select group of people who own a ‘Group of Seven’ painting at a record-setting price in 2012 with the purchase of a piece that has a provenance as close to unimpeachable as you can get. From a Nov. 22, 2012 news item on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) news online,

Hurdy Gurdy, one of the finest urban landscapes ever painted by Lawren Harris, sold for $1,082,250, a price that includes a 17 per cent buyer’s premium. The pre-sale estimate suggested it could go for $400,000 to $600,000 including the premium.

The Group of Seven founder kept the impressionistic painting of a former Toronto district known as the Ward in his own collection before bequeathing it to his daughter. It has remained in the family ever since.

Occasionally, Harris “would come and say, ‘I need to borrow this back for an exhibition,’ and sometimes she wouldn’t see [the paintings] again,” Heffel vice-president Robert Heffel said. “Harris asked to have this painting back for a show…and she said ‘No, dad. Not this one.’ It was a painting that was very, very dear to her.”

It had been a coup to get access to an authenticated Harris for comparison testing so Hurdy Gurdy’s absence was a major disappointment. Nonetheless, Robertson went through with the scheduled June 3, 2014 testing of his ‘Autumn Harbour’.

Chemistry, spectroscopy, the Raman system, and the experts

Primarily focused on a technical process, the chemists (from ProSpect* Scientific and Renishaw) were unprepared for the drama and excitement that anyone associated with the Canadian art scene might have predicted.  From the chemists’ perspective, it was an opportunity to examine a fabled piece of Canadian art (Hurdy Gurdy) and, possibly, play a minor role in making Canadian art history.

The technique the chemists used to examine the purported Harris, Autumn Harbour, is called Raman spectroscopy and its beginnings as a practical technique date back to the 1920s. (You can get more details about Raman spectroscopy in this Wikiipedia entry then will be given here after the spectroscopy description.)

Spectroscopy (borrowing heavily from this Wikipedia entry) is the process where one studies the interaction between matter and radiated energy and which can be measured as frequencies and/or wavelengths. Raman spectroscopy systems can be used to examine radiated energy with low frequency emissions as per this description in the Raman spectroscopy Wikipedia entry,

Raman spectroscopy (/ˈrɑːmən/; named after Sir C. V. Raman) is a spectroscopic technique used to observe vibrational, rotational, and other low-frequency modes in a system.[1] It relies on inelastic scattering, or Raman scattering, of monochromatic light, usually from a laser in the visible, near infrared, or near ultraviolet range. The laser light interacts with molecular vibrations, phonons or other excitations in the system, resulting in the energy of the laser photons being shifted up or down.

The reason for using Raman spectroscopy for art authentication, conservation, and/or restoration purposes is that the technique, as noted earlier, can specify the specific chemical composition of the pigments used to create the painting. It is a technique used in many fields as a representative from ProSpect Scientific notes,

Raman spectroscopy is a vital tool for minerologists, forensic investigators, surface science development, nanotechnology research, pharmaceutical research and other applications.  Most graduate level university labs have this technology today, as do many government and industry researchers.  Raman spectroscopy is now increasingly available in single purpose hand held units that can identify the presence of a small number of target substances with ease-of-use appropriate for field work by law enforcers, first responders or researchers in the field.

About the chemists and ProSpect Scientific and Renishaw

There were two technical experts attending the June 3, 2014 test for the purported Harris painting, Autumn Harbour, Dr. Richard Bormett of Renishaw and Dr. Kelly Akers of ProSpect Scientific.

Dr. Kelly Akers founded ProSpect Scientific in 1996. Her company represents Renishaw Raman spectroscopy systems for the most part although other products are also represented throughout North America. Akers’ company is located in Orangeville, Ontario. Renishaw, a company based in the UK. offers a wide line of products including Raman spectroscopes. (There is a Renishaw Canada Ltd., headquartered in Mississauga, Ontario, representing products other than Raman spectroscopes.)

ProSpect Scientific runs Raman spectroscopy workshops, at the Canadian Chemistry Conferences as a regular occurrence, often in conjunction with Renishaw’s Bormett,. David Robertson, on learning the company would be at the 2014 Canadian Chemistry Conference in Vancouver, contacted Akers and arranged to have his purported Harris and Hurdy Gurdy, the authenticated Harris, tested at the conference.

Bormett, based in Chicago, Illinois, is Renishaw’s business manager for the Spectroscopy Products Division in North America (Canada, US, & Mexico).  His expertise as a spectroscopist has led him to work with many customers throughout the Americas and, as such, has worked with several art institutions and museums on important and valuable artifacts.  He has wide empirical knowledge of Raman spectra for many things, including pigments, but does not claim expertise in art or art authentication. You can hear him speak at a 2013 US Library of Congress panel discussion titled, “Advances in Raman Spectroscopy for Analysis of Cultural Heritage Materials,” part of the Library of Congress’s Topics in Preservation Series (TOPS), here on the Library of Congress website or here on YouTube. The discussion runs some 130 minutes.

Bormett has a PhD in analytical chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh. Akers has a PhD in physical chemistry from the University of Toronto and is well known in the Raman spectroscopy field having published in many refereed journals including “Science” and the “Journal of Physical Chemistry.”  She expanded her knowledge of industrial applications of Raman spectroscopy substantive post doctoral work in Devon, Alberta at the CANMET Laboratory (Natural Resources Canada).

About Renishaw InVia Reflex Raman Spectrometers

The Raman spectroscopy system used for the examination, a Renishaw InVia Reflex Raman Spectrometer, had

  • two lasers (using 785nm [nanometres] and 532nm lasers for this application),
  • two cameras,
    (ProSpect Scientific provided this description of the cameras: The system has one CCD [Charged Coupled Device] camera that collects the scattered laser light to produce Raman spectra [very sensitive and expensive]. The system also has a viewing camera mounted on the microscope to allow the user to visually see what the target spot on the sample looks like. This camera shows on the computer what is visible through the eyepieces of the microscope.)
  • a microscope,
  • and a computer with a screen,

all of which fit on a tabletop, albeit a rather large one.

For anyone unfamiliar with the term CCD (charged coupled device), it is a sensor used in cameras to capture light and convert it to digital data for capture by the camera. (You can find out more here at TechTerms.com on the CCD webpage.)

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

* ‘to’ added to sentence on June 27, 2014 at 1340 hours (PDT). ‘ProsPect’ corrected to ‘ProSpect’ on June 30, 2014.

ETA July 14, 2014 at 1300 hours PDT: There is now an addendum to this series, which features a reply from the Canadian Conservation Institute to a query about art pigments used by Canadian artists and access to a database of information about them.

Lawren Harris (Group of Seven), art authentication, and the Canadian Conservation Insitute (addendum to four-part series)

Canadian Society for Chemistry honours Québec nanoscientist Federico Rosei

Dr. Federico Rosei’s name has graced this blog before, most recently in a June 15, 2010 posting about an organic nanoelectronics project. Late last week, Québec’s Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) announced that Rosei will be honoured by the Canadian Society for Chemistry at  the 2014 Canadian Chemistry Conference (from the January 24, 2014 news release on EurekAlert),,

The Canadian Society for Chemistry (CSC) has bestowed its 2014 Award for Research Excellence in Materials Chemistry on Professor Federico Rosei, director of the INRS Énergie Matériaux Télécommunications research centre, in recognition of his exceptional contributions to the field. Professor Rosei will be honoured at the society’s annual conference, which will take place June 1 to 5, 2014, in Vancouver.

In conjunction with this honour, Federico Rosei has been invited to speak at this important scientific conference and to take part in a lecture tour of Canadian universities located outside major cities.

Professor Rosei has been widely honoured for his research on nanomaterial properties and their applications. He has received numerous awards and distinctions, including the 2013 Herzberg Medal from the Canadian Association of Physicists, the Brian Ives Lectureship Award from ASM Canada, the 2011 Rutherford Memorial Medal in Chemistry from the Royal Society of Canada, and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation’s 2010 Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Research Award. He is also a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; the Institute of Physics; the Royal Society of Chemistry; the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining; the Institute of Engineering and Technology; and the Institute of Nanotechnology in the U.K.; the Engineering Institute of Canada; and the Australian Institute of Physics. In addition, Professor Rosei is a Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the Society for Photo-Image Engineers (SPIE), and a member of Sigma Xi (scientific research society) and the Global Young Academy.

Please join us in extending our congratulations to Professor Rosei!


The Canadian Society for Chemistry

The Canadian Society for Chemistry (CSC) is a not-for-profit professional association that unites chemistry students and professionals who work in industry, academia, and government. Recognized by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), the CSC awards annual prizes and scholarships in recognition of outstanding achievements in the chemical sciences.

About INRS

Institut national de recherche scientifique (INRS) is a graduate research and training university. As Canada’s leading university for research intensity in its class, INRS brings together some 150 professors and close to 700 students and postdoctoral fellows in its centres in Montreal, Quebec City, Laval, and Varennes. As active providers of fundamental research essential to the advancement of science in Quebec as well as internationally, INRS research teams also play a critical role in developing concrete solutions to problems that our society faces.

The French language version of the news release: de l’actualité le 23 janvier 2014, par Stéphanie Thibault (Note: Links have been removed from the excerpt),

Le professeur Federico Rosei du Centre Énergie Matériaux Télécommunications de l’INRS est récipiendaire du Prix d’excellence en chimie des matériaux 2014. La Société canadienne de chimie reconnaît ainsi sa contribution exceptionnelle dans ce domaine. Le professeur Rosei sera honoré lors du congrès annuel de la Société qui aura lieu du 1er au 5 juin 2014 à Vancouver.

À titre de lauréat, le professeur Rosei sera conférencier invité à cette importante rencontre scientifique et participera à une tournée de conférences qui l’amènera dans des universités canadiennes situées hors des grandes villes.

I have not found any specific details about Dr. Rosei’s upcoming chemistry lecture tour of universities.

The conference where Dr. Rosei will be honoured is the 97th annual Canadian Chemistry Conference and Exhibition. It is being hosted by Simon Fraser University (SFU), located in the Vancouver region. While the conference programme is not yet in place there’s a hint as to what will be offered in the conference chair’s Welcome message,

On behalf of the Organizing Committee, I am delighted to welcome all the delegates and their guests to Vancouver, British Columbia, for the 97th Canadian Chemistry Conference and Exhibition that will take place from June 1 to 5, 2014. This is Canada’s largest annual event devoted to the science and practice of chemistry, and it will give participants a platform to exchange ideas, discover novel opportunities, reacquaint with colleagues, meet new friends, and broaden their knowledge. The conference will held at the new Vancouver Convention Centre, which is a spectacular, green-designed facility on the beautiful waterfront in downtown Vancouver.

The theme of the CSC 2014 Conference is “Chemistry from Sea to Sky”; it will broadly cover all disciplines of chemistry from fundamental research to “blue sky” applications, highlight global chemical scientific interactions and collaborations, and feature the unique location, culture and beautiful geography (the Coastal Mountains along the ocean’s edge of Howe Sound) of British Columbia and Vancouver.

We are pleased to have Professor Shankar Balasubramanian (University of Cambridge, UK) and Professor Klaus Müllen (Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research, Mainz, Germany) as the plenary speakers. In addition to divisional symposia, the scientific program also includes several jointly organized international symposia, featuring Canada and each of China, Germany, Japan, Korea, Switzerland and the USA. This new type of symposium at the CSC aims to highlight research interests of Canadians in an international context. Interactions between chemists and TRIUMF (the world’s largest cyclotron, based in Vancouver) will also be highlighted via a special “Nuclear and Radiochemistry” Divisional Program.

All of the members of the local Organizing Committee from Simon Fraser University wish you a superb conference experience and a memorable stay in Vancouver. Welcome to Vancouver! Bienvenue à Vancouver!

Zuo-Guang Ye, Conference Chair
Department of Chemistry
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, British Columbia

Conference abstracts are being accepted until February 17, 2014 (according to the conference home page). Dr. Shankar Balasubramanian was last mentioned (one of several authors of a paper) here in a July 22, 2013 posting titled: Combining bacteriorhodopsin with semiconducting nanoparticles to generate hydrogen.