Guest Speaker Stephanie Stillo

Stephanie Stillo’s overarching problem she was trying to solve was how to discover the hidden data in old, historic documents, due to the fact that people used to reuse parchment.  In addition, she talked about evaluating dyes in paintings to find out what era the painting is from and what natural substances the artist used to make the dye.  She was excited and interested in this problem because by analyzing data through imaging, people can discover more about the author of the work, they can more accurately date a document to when it was created and learn about the inks and dyes used in that time period.  She talked a lot about her knowledge of hyperspectral imaging and how they used that to analyze the metadata in the historic documents and maps.  She talked about how at the Library of Congress they would expose different light waves to the document and take images under these different light conditions.  She and her colleagues would stay the photos and look for possible clues that might be missed by just looking at the document with your own eyes.  She gave an example of how they would take different art pieces and try to match what dye had been used to create it.  Then Stephanie showed a chart of the different color samples that they had in the lab and determined which color pattern matched the one they had tested.  She talked about how her contributions have been uncovering the lost writings and sketches on parchment that had been erased.  She was especially enthusiastic about the monk who came to the Library of Congress.

I really enjoyed learning about how hyperspectral imaging worked because I didn’t even know it existed.  I also had no idea that people reused parchment and could simply wipe off what they had written and that there are ways to recover this erased data.  I thought it was interesting that under different types of lighting, the lines or writing can become more visible.  I had no idea how useful artists were at the time of the discovery of the new world.  The concept of artists as scientists reinforced their importance to the new world and also why Stephanie’s research about paintings was useful.   She stayed excited and engaged throughout the entire presentation, which made it memorable.  To keep an audience’s interest, in it important to pull them in and make them care about whatever the person is presenting on, and I feel she did that quite well.  She also took the time to emphasize certain topics and concepts, which helped me to remember them.  I would have liked to hear more about the different documents she has analyzed as well as more about the dyes, particularly about the process of making dyes.  I could definitely enjoy taking a course from Stephanie because of her high energy.  She had a useful powerpoint that complemented her lecture well and she answered questions thoroughly.  She seemed approachable and willing to help students.  She was genuinely interested in our projects and seemed open to suggestions and new ideas.