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Exploring London Through the World of Art and Chemistry


What can you do for three weeks in London?  Join Professor Lynn Bradley, professor and associate chair of chemistry, and Professor Elizabeth Mackie, professor of art and program coordinator for fine arts, on an excursion of this global European city and find out. This faculty-lead Maymester course, “Exploring London through the World of Art and Chemistry,” explores the history and practice of art along with a scientific aspect—what is the science behind using certain materials and mediums in art.

chemistrylondon2“We try to look at the perspective of the material and what scientists might think about,” said Bradley about the chemistry portion of the course. “And also the perspective of the artists, why is it important for an artist to understand material science.”

In the beginning, this course was offered as a first seminar program (FSP) called “Photography, Metals, and Dyes: the Chemistry of Creating Art,” which was through a National Science Foundation grant to bring more students’ interests in science. Bradley and Mackie attended a workshop together to learn how to implement such a class. In fall 2010 and fall 2011, they taught the FSP course.

“In an FSP you got a lot of things going on,” Bradley said. “With the science, the art, and writing intensiveness of the course, it seemed too much to pack into the FSP. We thought it would be a really appropriate type of course to take abroad.”

The first trip to London was offered in the summer of 2013.  “Everything was there,” said Mackie about choosing London as the course’s destination. “All these elements came together, a lot of the museums are free, there’s a wonderful mix of cultures, there’s a lot of history, and it’s an easy place to get around. As we got more involved, it just became such a perfect place to teach this course.”

During the program, a typical weekday was spent with a lecture in the morning and then a field trip in the afternoon; certain field trips were for the whole day. Some field trips from the summer included exploring Spitalfields Public Art, making handmade paper at the Frogmore Mill, touring the small cathedral city of Chichester, and visiting the Talbot exhibition (the person who developed the first negative photograph, a pioneer for photography). Students are given assignments to encourage and develop their knowledge and appreciation of the art they get to see as well as projects to apply the practices they learn.

chemistrylondon1Students still have the time to explore the cities themselves during certain times of the weekdays and on weekends. With an Underground and bus pass included in the expenses and the location in the city, students can navigate and visit other parts of the city that interest them outside of the program. Students can also attend theater performances, dine at food markets, and shop at Harrods.

“I was slightly skeptical about the art aspect,” said chemistry major Chloe Fama (’14), but the trip changed her perception of the art world. “I learned an appreciation for public artwork and how to analyze works to try to figure out the artist’s intent. I was so grateful that I was able to experience the city through this class because there is so much artwork and beauty that I would have easily bypassed had I not been in this class.”

Being part of this program not only gives students a new perspective of art and chemistry, but also immerses them in a new culture and provides them growth as an individual.

“The buildings in London have a certain history that one does not encounter here in the states,” commented Dylan Nguyen (’16).  “The London trip was an opportunity to develop my confidence and independence,” added Nguyen. “The first week we traveled as a group, but it wasn’t long before I was able to navigate the tube and the bus system with ease.”

By Danielle Leng

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