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Stanford University

Building Bridges: Art+Science Learning Lab

Susan Roberts-Manganelli, director

It may not be surprising that Stanford—where an investment in the arts has been underway for years now—is home to a lab whose purpose is to make deep connections between Stanford’s scientific and arts communities. But the wide range of undergraduate projects in the lab is definitely surprising and has broadened the scope of material usually considered for advanced research. 

Director Susan Roberts-Manganelli describes the Art+Science Learning Lab as the place where scientists can use their analytical skills in new ways. “Scientists who have never been in an art museum lab before are examining objects such as Greek vases, using their materials science or chemistry knowledge to learn from ancient firing technologies,” she said. Students in the lab might learn that the degradation of microelectronic chips is similar to the damage that can be seen on a contemporary work of art made or preserved with synthetic resins. Such realizations can be a bridge to exploring and developing new materials for use in both technology and art conservation. The lab also acts as a “hospital”—providing a place where art objects can be preserved, restored, and conserved. 

The lab invites student fellows to study art objects from an interdisciplinary perspective. Project ideas are posted each winter, and student-generated ideas are also considered. Students can then share their research in small exhibitions, published papers, and presentations. 

Roberts-Manganelli, a painting conservator, has served as lab director since its inception and also oversees the conservation and care of the museum’s collection, including the outdoor art objects, together with objects conservator Samantha Li.