Zooming in on a hazy mystery

Conservation scientist Lynn Chua, 34, using a 3D digital microscope to examine a late 19th to early 20th century oil-based portrait of Mr Tan Beng Wan, the eldest son of Mr Tan Kim Tian. The pair had founded Tan Kim Tian and Son Steamship Company in
ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Conservation scientist Lynn Chua, 34, using a 3D digital microscope to examine a late 19th to early 20th century oil-based portrait of Mr Tan Beng Wan, the eldest son of Mr Tan Kim Tian. The pair had founded Tan Kim Tian and Son Steamship Company in 1871, one of the first firms in Singapore to buy and build ships. Beng Wan Road in Bendemeer and Kim Tian Road in Tiong Bahru are named after the two of them. The painting of the younger Mr Tan was donated in 1985 to the Peranakan Museum by Mr and Mrs Tan Choon Hoe and is part of the Peranakan collection of the National Heritage Board. However, a strange, thin whitish haze was noticed on the painting, and Ms Chua was tasked to find out its cause so that it could be removed. To crack the hazy mystery, Ms Chua extracted a small section of the paint layers and analysed it with the digital microscope, among other techniques, to determine the chemical compounds responsible, which included zinc oxalate and carbonate.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 10, 2020, with the headline 'Zooming in on a hazy mystery'. Print Edition | Subscribe