The Cleo and James Marston Fitch Thesis Grant was established in 2001 through an endowment by the estate of James Marston Fitch (1909-2000). It is given annually to a Columbia University Historic Preservation student to cover expenses incurred during research for their Master’s thesis.

2023 Grant Recipient

Michelle Leach, “Salt Crystallization Inhibitors: Compounds, Application Methods, and Testing Techniques”


Salt damage has long been listed as a major cause of deterioration for porous building materials, but the conservator’s toolbox is surprisingly light when it comes to treatments. Salt crystallization inhibitors (SCIs) emerged over the last twenty years as a possible treatment to prevent damage. This research focused on the evaluation of diethylenetriamine penta(methylene phosphonic acid)–also called DTPMP–and potassium ferrocyanide for preventing sodium sulfate damage to Indiana limestone and Berea sandstone. Samples were treated in the laboratory using a range of application methods and were exposed to aqueous sodium sulfate.  Multiple experiments were conducted to understand the success of inhibitors to modify efflorescence, to evaluate the application methods, and to understand the interaction between these inhibitors and the desalination properties of traditional poultice materials.

Poultice application showed the most promise for applying SCIs, with samples from this treatment group displaying the most consistent change from control samples.  A longer dwell time proved successful for treating the sandstone samples; capillary uptake treatments were hindered by bedding planes. Upon application using a poultice, it became clear that the use of ferrocyanides should be limited to stones with minimal-to-low iron contents due to a bluing reaction. DTPMP was successful in changing crystallization patterns in Berea sandstone, but its ability to prevent damage proved more complicated. Using inhibitors as additives in desalination poultices did not provide more efficient salt extraction and using an inhibitor prior to a desalination poultice can decrease salt extraction in some stone types.

Grant money from the Fitch Thesis Grant was used toward vital materials for this laboratory work as well as equipment use at the Columbia Nano Initiative.


Past Fitch Grant Recipients


Preme Chayatham, “And There was Light: The Use of Projection Mapping for Historic Preservation”


Tucker Simmons, “Testing Protective Coatings and their Removal for Outdoor Bronze Statuary”


Sarah Sargent, “Reclaiming the Fugitive Dust: Preserving and Interpreting America’s Forgotten History of Nuclear Contamination”


Shivali Gaikwad, “Living with Water: Adaptation Processes, Heritage Conservation and Conflicting Values”


Tonia Sing Chi, “Building Reciprocity: A Grounded Theory of Participation in Native American Housing and the Perpetuation of Earthen Architectural Traditions”


Cheng Liao, “Rethinking the Vernacular in China: Understanding the Dynamics of Social Transformation and the Evolution of Rural Architecture”


Alberto Sanchez-Sanchez, “Behind the Ecce Homo: Rural Development Policy and the Effects of Depopulation on the Preservation of Spanish Heritage”


Laura Groves, “Is there a Role for Preservation in a Favela?”


Emily Barr, “Pressing Issues: In-Kind Terra Cotta Replacement in the 21st Century”


Myun Song, “Wireless Sensing for Reinforced Concrete Structures and Concrete Repair”


Lorena Pérez Leighton, “1930s American Steel Houses: Modern Artifact or Traditional Dwelling?”


Susan Shay, “Cultural Landscape as Foil in Political Struggle”


Christine Huh, “The Bush Terminal Model Lofts and Early Reinforced Concrete Buildings on Brooklyn’s Waterfront; Their Significance as Industrial Heritage”


Susie Jackson, “Natural Extractives as Wood Preservatives”


Takushi Yoshida, “Machine Aesthetics in Architecture: Adaptive-reuse of Grain Elevators in Buffalo as an Industrial Landscape”


Deborah Baldwin van Steen, “The Architecture of Calvin Pollard (1797-1850)”


Michael Caratzas, “Cross-Bronx: Preserving a Significant Urban Expressway and Its Megastructure”


Preme Chaiyatham for And There was Light: the use of projection mapping for historic preservation

Subscribe to the Preservation Alumni Newsletter