Science & Art: exploring the wonders of both

As Albert Einstein once said:

“After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in esthetics, plasticity and form. The greatest scientists are always artists as well.”

The boundary between science and art is often a grey area but not for InnovaXN, where Ida Fazlic is using science for the benefit of art and bridging the gap between the two worlds.

Following her bachelor degree in conservation and restoration and a masters in conservation science, Ida is currently carrying out a project focused on analytical chemistry on micro-imaging of industrial and historical paints. At the ESRF, through the InnovaXN PhD programme, Ida has the opportunity to study the interactions of driers and binders in historical and industrial relevance using synchrotron light.  Our young scientist aims to analyse how painters’ drying methods affect masterpieces.

Ida’s PhD project involves partners University of Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum and AkzoNobel, within the international team of scientists from the CNRS and the University of Antwerp (together with ESRF and Rijksmuseum of course). She has contributed to the discovery of a rare lead compound in Rembrandt’s masterpiece “The Night Watch“.


This detection, which is a first in the history of the scientific study of paintings and was published in Angewandte Chemie – International Edition, provides new insight into 17th-century painting technique and the conservation history of the masterpiece (link to publication).


We asked Ida for a few insights to learn more about her background, the InnovaXN PhD milestones, her achievements, and her plans.

1. What is your background and what inspired you to pursue a career in science applied to arts?

Growing up in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country that was rebuilding itself after years of war destruction, I realized the importance of conservation and restoration of heritage. I believe that cultural heritage plays an important role in the reconstruction of war-torn societies by providing individuals and society with a better understanding of who we are and where we belong. To be able to adequately preserve works of art for the future generations, it is first necessary to become familiar with the composition and current state of the object.  For this, we need a combination of different analytical techniques that can offer detailed information to help answer these questions. However, to better interpret these scientific finds, it is necessary that chemists, physicists, and biologists collaborate with artists, historians, curators, and conservators, which makes this field multidisciplinary. I guess that my curiosity through these collaborations also played a big role here and brought me from the world of conservation to the world of science for conservation of artworks. 

2.What do you find most challenging and rewarding about your work?

Following up on my answer from before, I can say that sometimes the multidisciplinary approach can be a bit challenging as you need to be the link between different disciplines and acquire a variety of skills in those fields. However, this is at the same time the most rewarding part of my work. You get the amazing opportunity to work with and learn from colleagues from completely different fields. I guess the best part about this is that we get to contribute together to the better understanding and potential preservation of the work of art in question.

3. Why did you choose InnovaXN? Did the possibility to carry out your experience in a synchrotron facility influence your choice?

I was attracted by the opportunity to study how driers affect the drying processes of paints with the aid of the world’s most advanced materials investigation techniques at the ESRF, but also by the chance to work internationally and interdisciplinary in collaboration with the Rijksmuseum and AkzoNobel as partner institutions. I find InnovaXN an amazing platform that helps young researchers become professionals in their field, by giving them not only technical but also important soft skills through various pieces of training. I am extremely grateful for this opportunity to acquire life-long skills which help me advance in my current and, I am sure, will benefit me in my future career.

4. The first paper with you as a co-first author has just been published. What were your first thoughts on learning of its acceptance by the journal?

At the moment of acceptance, I was visiting the city where I came from, which made me realise how big and important this achievement is for someone coming from so far away. My mother and sister were right next to me when I received the acceptance email. I was overwhelmed with happiness and joy, and it felt even better because I could share this experience with my loved ones.

5. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Italy, Austria, and now France: what’s next?

I have one year left at the ESRF, and I would love to use this valuable opportunity to develop my full potential here and learn the most that I can from my supervisor and colleagues. After that, the next step for me will be to continue my PhD project at the Rijksmuseum for the final year. I think that a very beautiful and challenging period is ahead of me. Long-term, I would like to contribute to the development of heritage science in my country, Bosnia and Herzegovina, by transferring and giving the knowledge I received here. During my last stay in Amsterdam, I worked with the French Institute in the Netherlands on the promotion and strengthening of the French-Dutch relations. This was a very inspiring event with the Dutch students, which motivated me to establish and strengthen the scientific relations between Bosnia and Herzegovina and France through the French Institute in Bosnia and Herzegovina. With this, I am hoping that more young and curious minds from Bosnia and France can exchange and learn what I did through similar experiences.

6. InnovaXN aims to prepare its students for academia and industry. You are now halfway from completion, but if you would have to choose tomorrow, which would be your path?

If I had to choose tomorrow I would continue toward academia. I still have a lot to learn, and I enjoy research work. However, I find it extremely important to have a good overview of both academia and industry and to be aware of the opportunities that exist.

7. What advice would you give to someone just starting a PhD in science?

Stay curious. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, even when you think they make no sense. You are here to learn and improve, and to do that, you have to get out of your comfort zone, which can sometimes be challenging, but rewarding.



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