Undergraduate Honors Thesis Projects

Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Paper

Degree Name





Joan Esson

First Committee Member

Joan Esson

Second Committee Member

Carrigan Hayes

Third Committee Member

Karen Steigman


Technical art analysis, Surface Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy (SERS), Woo Chong Yung, X-ray fluorescence (XRF)

Subject Categories

Analytical Chemistry | Asian Art and Architecture | Higher Education


Over the past several years, scholars have recognized the importance of the 20th century Chinese American artist C.Y Woo, cumulating in an exhibition of his work at the Cincinnati Art Museum in May 2024. Scholars at Otterbein have become very involved in the study of his artwork, as Otterbein is the home of a large collection of his work. One area of research is the technical study of the materials that Woo used in his work. This will help understand his process as an artist and may help to date the approximately 1,000 paintings in the collection whose creation time is unknown.

The research consisted of two separate components. In the first, white pigments in a selection of Woo’s watercolor paintings were analyzed by several non-destructive techniques, including ultraviolet-induced fluorescence, portable x-ray fluorescence, portable Raman spectroscopy, and fiber optic reflectance spectroscopy. In the second, nanoparticle films were made and evaluated for their ability to measure colorants by surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS).

For the first part of the project, after analysis of the dated paintings by portable Raman spectroscopy, portable x-ray fluorescence, and ultraviolet-induced fluorescence, it was found that most of the paintings made from Woo’s time in China (prior to 1966), were composed of lead white with lithopone and/or zinc sulfide and barium sulfate. Of the paintings made in the United States, many of the paintings contained titanium white and barium sulfate. Using the analysis of the dated paintings and the determination of white pigments composition, several undated paintings were given a general timeline from when they were created.

For the second part of the project, it was found that the silver nanoparticles enhanced the signal for specific pigments, but not all of them. Also, although several different films were produced in the lab, they were not successful in SERS analysis of the paintings.

This research has laid the foundation for the analysis of the C.Y Woo collection. Because C. Y. Woo’s collection is so large, this project was only able to get through a small portion of the paintings, specifically, his large bird-and-flower paintings. For future research, other genres of Woo’s artwork will be analyzed, along with the evaluation of other types of SERS films.

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Acknowledgement 1


Acknowledgement 2


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