Dr. Fiona McNeill - McMaster University


Date: July 20, 2022

Time: 2:30 pm

Location: ABB 102

Guest: Dr. Fiona McNeill
Department of Physics and Astronomy
McMaster University

Title: Dying to be beautiful: Using physics to study 18th-century white lead makeup

In the last two years, I have started to study 18th-century toxic white lead makeup. I am trying to answer whether women could die from wearing this makeup and what beautifying properties would lead women to wear it.
You might wonder what on earth this research has to do with physics, but physics allows us to study this topic in ways that other disciplines cannot. In fact, I lam enjoying this research immensely because there is so much interesting physics: We use diffusion techniques and modelling to study whether lead from makeup can be absorbed through skin. Health physics biokinetic models allow us to calculate the potential levels of toxicity from skin absorption. Optical diffuse reflectance techniques help us understand how makeup could beautify skin by scattering and absorbing light. Finally, electron microscopy and x-ray diffraction techniques are helping us understand what the ‘white lead’ in this makeup is.
No other laboratory is studying white lead makeup recipes, so we have had to develop the techniques and tools. I’m going to tell you about the successes and the many failures there have been along the way.
Through this talk I hope to show you how physics can shine a new light on the misogyny that affects our perception of historical women and I’ll discuss how bias can still affect medical physics research today.
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McMaster University - Faculty of Science | Physics & Astronomy