Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Eating on Atoms

It turns out scientific themed housewares is not a new idea. I found these based on X-ray cccrystallography from the 1950s on An Aesthete's Lament. Clockwise from top left they are Peter Wall's Beryl 8.9 plates for Wedgwood, Hazel Thrumpston and Peter Cave's Aluminum Hydroxide plate for E Brain and Co, and Thrumpston's Festival plate for RH and SL Plant.

In 2008 the Wellcome Collection featured an exhibit called From Atoms to Patterns, and included the following history in it's press release:

The 1951 Festival of Britain provided an extraordinary platform for British ingenuity and creativity in science and the arts. One of the boldest initiatives within the Festival was the Festival Pattern Group, which brought together adventurous manufacturers and forward-looking crystallographers (scientists who analyse atomic structures by taking X-ray photographs of crystalline materials) to create a collection of quirky and influential furnishing designs.

Inspired by the intricate patterns of crystal structures, leading Cambridge crystallographer Dr Helen Megaw came up with the novel idea of using them for textiles. As scientific consultant to the Festival Pattern Group, she collated crystal structure diagrams from eminent colleagues and ensured that they were interpreted in an accurate and authentic way. Spearheaded by the Council of Industrial Design, the Festival Pattern Group enlisted the manufacturers, vetted the designs and organised special displays at the Festival of Britain - notably in the Regatta Restaurant on the South Bank, which was decorated with crystal structure-patterned furnishings, and the Exhibition of Science at South Kensington.

The 2008 exhibit of these works included:

- Rayon dress fabrics and nitrocellulose-coated ‘leathercloth’ printed with the molecular structure of haemoglobin

- Tie silks woven with ball-and-spoke atomic structures of chalk and china clay

- Plastic laminates and wallpapers adorned with intricate insulin motifs

- Lace embroidered with the crystal structures of beryl (emerald) and aluminium hydroxide (hydrargillite)

- Carpets emblazoned with patterns derived from the chemical compound resorcinol

- Relief-patterned window glass evoking the atomic structure of the mineral apophyllite

- Fluid abstract-patterned curtains based on diagrams of afwillite, a hydrated calcium silicate formed during the setting of cement

Two good reviews (with more pictures) of the exhibit are at frieze and the Nature Network. The book about the exhibit is out of print, but you may be able to find a copy if you search around: From Atoms to Patterns: Crystal Structure Designs from the 1951 Festival of Britain

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