Materials Innovation Hub: Connecting Materials Culture to Materials Science

Lead Research Organisation: King's College London
Department Name: Engineering

Abstract

The development of the silicon chip fifty years ago was the materials science innovation that sparked the information technology revolution. Such new materials do more than transform technology, they change behaviour and shape the urban landscape, from our cities, to our hospitals, to our homes, to our art. Thus, materials are a defining characteristic of society: its history, culture and economic welfare. As a result materiality is one of the central themes of study in every university. However in contemporary universities the scientists involved in making new materials (physicists, chemists, materials scientists) very rarely get involved with those who study the cultural significance and impact of materials (humanities and social scientists), and are often further distanced from those who make things with materials (medics, engineers, architects, designers, artists). This has a serious detrimental effect on the research and teaching culture of universities, and their capacity to engage with the wider world, since many of the important issues of contemporary society, such as health, security, climate change and economic sustainability, require a multi-disciplinary approach. The aim of this research project is to build the Materials Innovation Hub within King's College London whose guiding principle will be that all materials innovation benefits from a system-wide multidisciplinary approach involving the arts, humanities, social sciences, physical sciences and health sciences. The Hub will be a focal point for developing our understanding of how materials, materiality and material culture affect the human realm, be it in the form of a new type of artificial limb, or a new form of human expression. It will be a place of wonder, play and ambitious ideas - a place to initiate innovation and culture change within the university and the UK.

Planned Impact

At present there is almost no relationship between materials scientists and creative industry professionals in the UK. This status quo is not ideal for a number of reasons. Firstly, the creative industries are economically very important. In the UK these industries employ 1.3 million people, generate 112.5 billion p.a., account for 9.1% of the GDP, and are widely acknowledged as being among the most buoyant sectors in the British economy. However they are not playing their full role in determining the focus of publicly-funded materials research. Secondly, the creative industries have a long history of posing provocative problems which in turn drive forward the science agenda; for example the need for materials that transform their properties in response to digital stimuli for virtual touch: such new materials have already impacted the phone industry but could impact architecture, jewellery, and many other aspects of product design. Thirdly, materials have an immense cultural significance and the introduction of new materials by an isolated materials science community holds the prospect of further deepening the rift between scientists and society. Fourthly, the environmental impact and sustainability of materials manufacturing is dependant very much on the social and cultural use of the technology. Thus a more nuanced understanding of materials, materiality and materials culture is urgently needed in the UK. We will create a Materials Innovation Hub which will be the first UK research centre that brings together materials science and materials culture research in the same institution. As the Hub matures it will address the four issues outlined above and this will deliver the following benefits to the UK: Creative Industries - This project will create a Materials Innovation Hub which will give creative companies from across the sector a dedicated place to undertake long-term research, leverage government funding, collaborate on the development of new materials, and raise the national profile of their innovations in this area. Materials Industries - The materials industries will benefit from a steady flow of materials innovation that emerges from the Materials Innovation Hub. The materials library within the Hub will provide a place for these industries to showcase their materials, and so give them greater visibility in the creative industries. Museums - Museums and other organizations within the heritage sector operate at the intersection of materials science and materials culture on a daily basis through their work on the preservation, conservation, curation, and, increasingly, digitisation of objects within their collections. It is expected that many of the Hub's research projects will have a direct impact on these activities. Government Agencies - This project will address questions of how materials research might be applied to specific sectors, such as UK architecture, heritage, design, or craft, and how in turn such findings might be fed back into Government policy-making in these areas. We will facilitate public discussion on these issues, supply leadership, and provide evidence to the UK policy-makers on issues of materials manufacture and usage. Universities - This project will aim to raise the profile of the creative industries among the materials science research and teaching communities as a sector worthy of research and study, and so help the nation's universities compete globally in this rapidly-growing area. The long term impact of the project relies on the longevity of the project within King's and in particular in the Materials Innovation Hub being integrated within the Somerset House cultural precinct that will develop over the next ten years, in which King's is the major academic partner.

Publications

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