Nick Swanson became so immersed in student-faculty research that he decided to pursue a career in science research instead of teaching science. It all happened after he teamed up with Jeffrey Jankowski, associate professor of chemistry, to solve a mystery about what was causing a cloudy haze to develop on the interior panels of glass display cases
at Chicago’s renowned Field Museum.
The Field Museum exhibits thousands of artifacts in glass display cases and, over time, conservationists and curators had become frustrated with the presence of the opaque film inside the cases. So Jankowski and Swanson undertook a study of the haze problem as part of an independent research project. The pair first developed a method for collecting samples of the film. They took the samples back to campus in Naperville and analyzed them using Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy technology, which provides information about molecular structure of materials.
“Although this problem is known in the museum community, very little work has been done to chemically identify the haze,” says Jankowski.
What they found turned out to be a surprise. Though the haze appeared similar from case to case, the chemical composition of the film varied. Different factors caused the haze, ranging from residue left by prior cleaning solutions to compounds created by chemical changes of the artifacts within the cases.
They presented their findings to Field Museum officials, who have adopted their recommendations. Thanks to this research, the inside of glass cases are now cleaned using a mixture of distilled water and isopropyl, or rubbing alcohol. The new procedures are reducing or eliminating the residue problems.
The project so intrigued Swanson that he decided to pursue research chemistry and, after graduating in June, he went to work for an analytical and life science instrumentation firm.
“If I hadn’t had this opportunity, I’d have gone down a completely different career path,” he adds.