On the evening of Wednesday 17 October, RSC Belgium welcomed science and art fans to the Performing Arts Centre at St. Johns International School in Waterloo to hear from David Dobson, Professor of Earth Materials at University College London (UCL). The subject was 'Blue'.
The colour blue has been the rarest and most expensive pigment, for centuries reserved for emperors and gods. Even today modern blue pigments command a premium and finding a good all-round blue is an ongoing area of research. Blue minerals are very rare - the commonest colour-producing element, iron, normally makes greens, yellow and reds. As a consequence, this was the available pallet for most of human history, but with increased travel in the late Middle Ages and the development of synthetic technologies at various times in our history blue became available to the richest patrons.
David (pictured above) discussed the history and technology of blue pigments in western art, from pre-Roman right through to the 21st century with a couple of chemical demonstrations to illustrate particular points. He also described his work to develop a new blue modelled on the mineral structures which exist 500 kilometres deep beneath our feet.
Scientist and artist
David's scientific career, working with colleagues at UCL and the Bayerisches Geoinstitut in Bayreuth Germany, involves very high- pressure experiments on deep Earth materials; the synthesis and properties of new iron-alloy phases relevant to the Earth’s core; transport properties of mantle mineral rocks and minerals; and deep seismicity.
In January 2017 David also became the first ‘Scientist in Residence’ at the Slade School of Art in London being based within the school for one year. The residency was a result of an ongoing Materials Research Project at the Slade, which highlights the role of materials within the creative and artistic process and The Pigment Timeline - a collaborative, cross-disciplinary research project that investigates and establishes connections across all departments at UCL that involve pigment and colour in any aspect of their research.
David's talk was particularly thought provoking and raised many questions from an audience on aspects of science and art. David is also an engraver and mountaineer and you can find images covering all his enthusiasms at: https://www.instagram.com/m3m_works/