What’s in our Materials Library stocking?

17 December 2020

What’s in our Materials Library stocking?

We’re starting to feel festive here at the Institute of Making, so we’ve dusted off some favourite winter holiday-themed materials for the occasion. Now…what have we got in our Materials Library stocking for you?

First up is the obligatory lump of COAL of course, in the form of a rather fancy activated charcoal filter that we would be quite happy with in our stocking! The idea that coal should be given as punishment for bad behaviour is a relatively recent one, as coal didn’t become an everyday domestic product until after the Industrial Revolution. Before that, it would probably have been a luxurious, welcome and heat-generating gift, and naughty children would have been castigated with stones, ashes and cold potatoes in their socks instead. 

Second comes SPRUCE, the material of Christmas trees, along with its close cousins pine and fir. The symbolic association between evergreen trees and winter long predates Christianity, and plants like palms, mistletoe and holly have been used to represent everlasting life and celebrate triumph over the ravishes of winter by cultures as varied as the Egyptians, Romans, Celtic Druids and the 19th century Pennsylvania Dutch. Our sample of spruce is in the form of a tuning fork: part of a set of 16 made by director Zoe in different materials to explore their acoustic properties. Although this little wooden fellow doesn’t ring for very long (we won’t be playing jingle bells with it…) it does make a surprisingly bright and festive note when pinged right next to your ear.

Next up, we have a sprinkling of SNOW – in this case, artificial snow gathered from a film set. This amazing superabsorbent polymer can suck up about 800 times its own weight in water, making it perfect for recreating  the chilly wetness of real snow. Aside from its frivolous decorative uses though, this thirsty material is also a staple used in our nappies and sanitary towels, in flood control, and as a fire-retardant gel.

And last but not least, we’ve got a tiny gift of GOLD: one of three offerings given by the wise men, alongside frankincense and myrrh (which we don’t yet have in our collection – hint, hint Santa…). Our gold is slightly unusual though, in that it’s nanoscale and in the form of a purple goldfish.

Check out the Materials Library profiles linked in this blog post (materials in bold) to learn more about these extraordinary and festive materials, and we look forward to seeing you for more materials fun next year.