Samuel Yellin and the search for a thesis topic

I want to make my thesis useful to architectural conservators. I don’t want this to be some obscure topic that does not advance the field. I would like this to be a material science thesis grounded on electrochemistry.

I want the thesis to be compact and succinct. One model I keep referring back is the Very Short Introduction series by Oxford University Press. These little books offer an introduction to a wide range of topics from Buddhism to Particle Physics. The style of these books is academic: unadorned, with graphics that are as elemental as a quick sketch. This is what I aim for: a thesis that stands strong even when stripped of embellishments in fonts, graphics, and flowery words.

Sam Yellin worked primarily with wrought iron and iron. I fear I am on a dead-end, where I may unsuccessfully find physical phenomena that is peculiar to the ironwork of Sam Yellin. If Sam Yellin will be the topic of my thesis, it would be a monograph, using case studies as a subcomponent.

I would like to build upon a master’s thesis that an archivist at Penn recommended to look at. It is a thesis in Monel, the alloy of copper and nickel that was popular in the 1920s. His research lays the groundwork to discover the phases and causes of Monel atmospheric corrosion. Yet the author has signaled that he intends to do the lab work himself. I do not wish to compete, so I may need to find another path that circles around my interests: Beaux-Arts architecture, 3D animations, and an interest to cross-discipline with Chemistry, electrochemistry, and physics.

How about I tackle the phases and causes of failure of artificial stone like that seen in McKim’s original Pennsylvania Station? This would be more of a history of technology thesis, with no treatment component, and I do want to create graphic animations that explain the deterioration mechanisms in a visually-compelling way. The Vaccine Makers Project has very interesting animations of how vaccines work. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey includes animations of subatomic particles. And the Fallen of World War II documentary presents an engaging story that visualizes statistics in a very compelling way.


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