Experiential learning encompasses any activity in which a student is actively engaged in their education inside or outside of the classroom. At Trinity, experiential learning includes undergraduate research opportunities inside and outside of the classroom, volunteer experiences, internships, study abroad opportunities, and more.

By Paige Roth

As the Trinity undergraduate research community gears up for the next season of summer research, it is time to pick up where we left off with some of our favorite collegiate researchers and to meet some new faces. To kick off this exciting new year of research, I caught up with Alamo chemist, Natalie Seitzman, to learn about the highlights and findings of her time analyzing pigments at the San Antonio Alamo.

Natalie Seitzman, Chemistry of the Texas Alamo, XRF
Natalie Seitzman '16

Seitzman visited the Alamo several times throughout the course of the summer to collect samples. During her visits, Seitzman received unprecedented access to the Alamo confessional—a room unavailable to the general public during guided.

Natalie Seitzman, Chemistry of the Texas Alamo, XRF
Seitzman examines a sample in the XRF.

On site, Seitzman analyzed the samples using an X-Ray Florescence device (XRF). These readings told Seitzman what elements were present in her sample. Then, once she knew what to look for, Seitzman mounted the sample in a small plastic cube for further analysis with a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) back at the lab. The SEM provides mapping capabilities that allow scientists to locate a specific element on your microscopic sample.

Using these techniques, Seitzman and her research mentor, Dr. Michelle Bushey, characterized the elements that made up the pigments used to decorate the walls of the Alamo hundreds of years ago. Though the team does not aim to repaint or restore the wall, they do hope to produce an electronic resource to accompany the wall where visitors can view components of the original design.

Seitzman shows me what samples look like inside the SEM.

And what did they find? Though it is not possible to make conclusions about the paint colors using chemistry alone, Seitzman and Dr. Bushey were able to hypothesize colors based on chemical information in the context of art history and historical documentation from the time period. From the research, the team concluded that the sacristy likely contained pigments dating back to the 1700s including vermillion and copper based green paint in addition to iron based ochre—a Spanish colonial pigment characteristic of the 1720s. The confessional contained evidence of more modern pigments. Specifically, the presence of titanium and lead based paints suggested a design created after 1927 when the paint became partially available.

Natalie Seitzman, Chemistry of the Texas Alamo, XRF

When asked about her experience in the lab Seitzman said, "Research has allowed me to investigate some of the less visible career paths. I think a lot of students want to become professors and doctors because those careers are really visible. This summer has allowed me to explore those new career paths.”