Engineers restore and explore art in Amsterdam

By The Beacon | October 10, 2013 12:55am
Photo courtesy of Corey Trujillo

By Maggie Smet |

For most mechanical engineers, summer internships don’t include 400-year-old art, perusing museums and biking cobblestone streets. But for seniors Corey Trujillo and Jordan Lum, their summer included that and more.

Trujillo and Lum spent 10 weeks working with Dr. Bill Wei in Amsterdam in the Netherlands, applying their mechanical engineering skills to art conservation for the Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed (RCE), or Cultural Heritage Agency of The Netherlands.

Their first week in Europe got off to a colorful start. A specific color, in fact.

“We didn’t know our hostel was in the middle of the red light district,” Trujillo said. “it was a Christian hostel and we chose it because it was safe and calm. The red light district is an interesting place, but to live there was awful.”

Finding a place to live for the summer was a part of the adventure. With a housing stipend from RCE, they moved around the city from a rented room from Kwela Hermanns, well known for her Ted Talk on educational innovation, to Craig Allen Smith, an industrial designer from Canada and eventually to a dorm sub-let.

Both found these new places and people an integral part of the cultural experience. Lum and Trujillo were also able to travel with colleagues on the weekend around the Netherlands and Europe.

During their internship, Trujillo focused on silver restoration and Lum worked with paper. They were the only undergraduates in the lab, working with graduate students and conservators from The Rijksmuseum, a Dutch national museum of history and art. Trujillo examined silver specimens under a powerful microscope and registered changes after restorative cleanings. Lum studied the effects of vibrations on pastel drawings, working with large subwoofers to understand the effect transportation has on these pieces.

“It’s not the typical mainstream field of engineering, but once I got there and saw how Dr. Wei was applying what we learned in school to this field. It was very insightful and mind-broadening that you can apply what you learn to anything.” Lum said.

This mind-broadening included weekly trips to museums across the Netherlands to see art and to critique displays and restorative efforts. The city of Amsterdam, with its canals, old buildings, modern art, and local delicacies including waffles and raw herring, though not together, proved to be an enriching part of their 10-week experience outside of the lab.

After this experience, both Lum and Trujillo are weighing their options for the future. Lum is interested in renewable energy, but would love to one day work on art conservation. Trujillo is considering architecture as a career field. Ultimately, both came away with a broader sense of the world and their futures as engineers as they enter their senior year.

“I never really thought in the international, broader sense of the world,” Lum said. “But you really have to open your horizons and think about how you can be competitive in an international sense.”

Lum considers the experience the best experience of his life.

Dr. Bill Wei will be coming to campus Oct. 23 to speak to the Mechanical Engineering club about his work.