Grant funds research to develop technology to enhance public art experiences

Penn State Abington engineering Excellence Fund

Yi Yang, assistant professor of electrical engineering at Penn State Abington, is the principal investigator on the federal grant.

Credit: Pam Brobst

ABINGTON, Pa. — A multidisciplinary team of professors from Penn State Abington, Penn State University Park, and the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) were awarded an $83,040 grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services for the project “High-Resolution Optical Imaging Platform for Digitization of Paintings in Color and 3D.”

The researchers will develop standards and protocols for a new scanning platform that will enhance the public’s online viewing experiences of artwork as well as conservation efforts by museums. It will include creating a portable art-specific optical coherent tomography (OCT) scanner as well as a user-friendly software tool to display and analyze digital information collected by the scanner.

The project will enlist a target audience of undergraduate college students to assess their viewing and learning experiences with 3D digital art created with the scanner. The goal will be to increase public access to artworks by advancing OCT technology in art-related applications.

“This is a great infrastructure investment to ensure that museums and libraries have access to state-of-the-art optical technology to meet their mission in a digital age especially in a post-pandemic world where learning and working online will probably become even more relevant," Yi Yang, assistant professor of electrical engineering at Abington and principal investigator on the grant, said.

"We are very excited about this project and the opportunities it can potentially create,” he continued.

Yang noted that the dedicated system will fulfill a need for museums in the region since Abington is strategically located along the Northeast Corridor, which is the home to many art institutions.

Joining Yang on the grant as co-principal investigators are Heather McCune Bruhn, assistant teaching professor of art history at Penn State’s University Park campus, and Xuan Liu, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at NJIT.

Earlier this year Yang was awarded a related seed grant from the Penn State Institute for Computational and Data Sciences, for a proposal titled, "Integrating Artificial Intelligence and Optical Coherent Tomography Data for Art Conservation Applications." 

Abington students Nicholas Gahman, Yihang Liu, and Honglin Wu were hired this semester with funds from the grants to work on the project.

Optical scanner art grant

Heather McCune Bruhn, assistant teaching professor of art at University Park, and Xuan Liu, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, are co-principal investigators on the federal grant.

Credit: Penn State

The roots of the project date back several years to when Yang conceived "Multi-Modality Optical Imaging Platform for Digitizing Paintings in Color and 3D," an interdisciplinary effort to build a prototype scanner based on 3D OCT, which is used in the biomedical field.

A group of Abington students under Yang’s tutelage built the scanner and delivered it to a lab at NJIT. He worked with art conservators from the Winterthur Museum and the University of Delaware on this iteration of the research.

“It captures the ultra high-resolution, 3D surface profile and underlayer structure information of paintings in unprecedented detail,” Yang explained at the time.

About Penn State Abington
Penn State Abington provides an affordable, accessible and high-impact education resulting in the success of a diverse student body. It is committed to student success through innovative approaches to 21st-century public higher education within a world-class research university. With about 3,700 students, Penn State Abington is a residential campus that offers baccalaureate degrees in 23 majors, undergraduate research, the Schreyer honors program, NCAA Division III athletics and more.