Pigments, Mortars and CEE Scarves: A Day in my Life
By Graduate Student, Linda Seymour

Studying antiqua-inspired materials in Israel

Hello, I’m Linda, a third year PhD student in Esther & Harold E. Edgerton Career Development Assistant Professor Admir Masic’s Laboratory for Multi-Scale Characterization and Material Design (MCMD Lab). In the MCMD Lab, I study Antiqua-Inspired Construction materials. Sometimes, I even study ancient materials outside of the lab, like in my trip to Israel this past summer. I recently took over the MIT CEE Instagram to give prospective graduate students a taste of what daily life looks like around here. This highlight reel captures my day on December 11, 2018.

Heading to the lab on a cold December morning

Rolling into lab around 8:45 am, I know I’m going to have a busy day. No two days are ever the same around here. This week, I’m running measurements on two ancient materials: Egyptian Blue Pigment and Roman mortar.

Running Measurements on Egyptian Blue

First up is Egyptian Blue. We are working with collaborators in Italy to understand its luminescent properties. For this project, one of our undergraduate researchers, Max Kessler ’20, is really taking ownership over the majority of the work. This makes it a great opportunity for me to mentor undergrad research while working with a unique ancient material. In the above picture, I am setting up an EDS (energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy) scan of some Egyptian Blue reproductions. We are trying to understand how variations in the elemental composition influence the luminescence, which we can track with either a DSLR camera or Raman spectroscopy (thanks to a great observation by Max!).

The last day of 1.057: Heritage Science and Technology

Next, I headed down to 1.057: Heritage Science and Technology, the class I was a teaching assistant for this past semester. 1.057 is the follow-up class for the Materials in Art, Architecture and Archaeology fieldwork trip to Italy over the summer, so I have been working with these students since June. Many days, I feel as if this class teaches me more than I teach them. After wrapping up the last 1.057 class of the semester, we head back to the lab to continue some characterization work.

Short workout and Spanish class

At 2 pm (after eating lunch and setting up another characterization scan), it was time for Spanish class. At MIT, there are no restrictions on the departments in which you can take classes. As such, I can supplement my technical learning with a language class. While I am out of the lab, I take the opportunity to stop by the gym as well.

Setting up an overnight characterization in the lab

By the time it was 4:30 pm, my daytime scans had finished up and it was time to set up an overnight characterization of a piece of Roman mortar. If you ever meet my advisor, one of his favorite questions to ask is: “Why have Roman ruins stood for centuries but our infrastructure crumbles after decades?”

Our lab specializes in high-resolution, large area Raman microscopy and we are hoping to use this technique in order to uncover some new insights about the durability of ancient Roman mortars. Can we engineer the future based on the proven durability of the past? Stay tuned to MIT CEE to find out what happens!

Ending a productive day with tacos for dinner!

After a productive day in the lab, it was time for dinner. My partner, Derek, works in theatrical set design and construction in Waltham, so we split the distance between our workplaces by living in Watertown. MIT CEE has been as welcoming to Derek as they have been to me (note his CEE hat and scarf). In addition, our department always encourages families and significant others to attend our events. The welcoming community has been integral to my graduate school experience.