Bia Fonseca received her degree in Chemistry from Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, where she also studied three years of Fine Arts, piquing her interest in Conservation. During her studies, she went on to specialize in Physical Chemistry. As a chemist, she worked in Brazil and in Germany modeling different systems for the oil and automotive industries. She went on to get her MA in Archaeological and Museum Objects Conservation degree with distinction from Durham University. Fonseca has worked as an artifact conservator at National Museums of Scotland, in the UK, and at Centro de Conservação de Bens Culturais, in Brazil, whilst also working in parallel projects at Durham University and with Messors, in Italy.
During her BSc, she worked for approximately two years modelling the reduction of the gallyl ion to dihydride gallium in Ga-exchanged HZSM5 zeolite cavities using Density Functional Theory (DFT), a work that obtained high praise from referees and has been published in conference proceedings. At that time, she also did an internship as an undergraduate researcher in the Laboratory of Theoretical Chemistry at the Technische Universität Dresden, under the supervision of Prof. Gotthard Seifert and Dr. Jan-Ole Joswig, where she had the task of researching the tribological aspects of lubricants on graphene using DFTB (Density Functional Tight Binding) and QM/MM (Quantum Mechanics/Molecular Mechanics) methods. At Durham, she has researched and developed a new method for the treatment of flaking paint on magic lantern slides, which is when she first applied her training as a chemist to cultural heritage objects.
Her current professional interests include the use of analytical techniques to better understand the material and anthropological aspects of works of art and historical objects and the development of new non-invasive state of the art analytical technology, particularly using combined spectroscopic techniques. For the past year, she has looked into the non-invasive characterisation of organic red pigments, particularly madder and cochineal, by fibre optic reflectance spectroscopy (FORS) at the Getty Conservation Institute. This work involved the synthesis of historically accurate pigments and their analysis by LC-MS, FTIR and FORS of painted mock-up panels.
The role of water in protein decay
CRACKLE - the pattern of minute surface cracks on paintworks - is an ageing phenomenon caused by the dehydration and polymerization of the paint surface. My PhD project CRACKLE will explore the role of water in degradation and explore the degree to which solvation shells structure the water. What happens when the water threshold begins to limit the number of water molecules around each residue?
In order to do this, I will target gelatin, widely used as glue and binder and one of the most commonly reported proteins in cultural heritage. Gelatin is the highly disordered version of the fibrous protein, type I collagen, found in abundance in connective tissues, skin and bone. Following the published structure of collagen, this gives me the opportunity to contrast the same protein sequence in both a crystalline and disordered state.
The project will thermally degrade (a) freeze-dried and (b) freeze-dried and rehydrated samples of collagen and gelatin, and (c) dissolved gelatin (the latter at pH 4, 7, & 10). Time series of thermally degraded samples will be analysed using LC-MS/MS. This data will be directly comparable with large datasets on degraded collagen and gelatin in archaeological and cultural heritage samples in the Palaeoproteomics group at SNM. The second element of the project is MD and QM simulations of (i) solvation of collagen intact and degraded gelatin (ii) hydrolysis of gelatin peptide bonds respectively.
The abundance of collagen, its longevity and widespread application as a biomaterial (for example by Industrial partner, Devro) means that the results will have resonance outside the narrow world of Cultural Heritage. CRACKLE combines together my skills in experimental and computational chemistry with my passion for the study of cultural heritage. My exposure to industry and leading computational groups, as well as heritage partners, will be an obvious advantage to enhance my career.