Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Aerogel to Baby Teeth: Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made On: News

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Aerogel to Baby Teeth: Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made On: News

Article excerpt

UCL's Institute of Making gives hands-on access to some fascinating materials. Matthew Reisz reports.

University College London's new "multidisciplinary research club" brings together an astonishing range of unexpected objects that curator and creative director Zoe Laughlin hopes can "inspire curiosity and creativity".

Among them are her own milk teeth, kept by her mother; a jar of fluorescent yellow paintball pellets; a sample of aerogel used in Nasa's jet propulsion laboratory to catch star dust; steel spun out to the silky fineness of human hair; a piece of Bakelite once owned by somebody's grandmother; and a chunk of Silly Putty.

There are also spoons made of different metals to test the theory that each gives food a slightly different taste and a collection of small cubes - one of Blu-Tack that someone had started to roll into a ball, another of white chocolate that had been nibbled by a mouse - showing how the edges and corners of different materials get chipped away.

All form part of the materials library that Dr Laughlin and her two fellow directors have been assembling since 2005. It had its genesis in her doctoral studies at King's College London and was long kept hidden away in a basement there, although it was taken out occasionally for research, exhibitions and events. By 2010, she realised that the collection deserved much greater public prominence.

It now forms part of UCL's Institute of Making, located in a former loading bay that still incorporates a crane to bring up kit from underground workshops. Core funding comes from UCL's departments of engineering and of museums and public engagement. Unlike other libraries of materials, it is linked to a "MakeSpace" where members - anyone working at UCL who has paid the Pounds 20 registration fee and gone on an induction course - can come along and try things out. Dr Laughlin hopes to attract everyone from "people looking at material culture and the philosophy of matter to chemists creating a new kind of plastic". …

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