Review of the London Materials Society Schools Event held on 9 March 2006

London Materials Society
9 Mar 2006

The event at The Wallace Collection was attended by 32 students and four teachers. The collection bequeathed to the nation by Lady Wallace, widow of Sir Richard Wallace, in 1897 is one of the finest and largest collections of works of art presented to any nation by a private individual. The collection holds furniture, sculpture, porcelain and paintings especially 17th and 18th century French paintings as well as a famous collection of European and Oriental armour.

The programme consisted of an introduction to the furniture and armour collections. Eleanor Tollfree and Bridget Crowley spoke about the materials used in furniture making and decorating especially 17th century Boulle marquetry (after André-Charles Boulle). In addition to the various woods (especially ebony) the importance of turtle-shell, brass, copper, pewter, silver and mother of pearl were mentioned in marquetry. A multi-drawered cabinet and a wardrobe displaying Boulle marquetry were compared with a pair of Japanese finely decorated lacquered cabinets incorporating views of Mount Fuji on the doors. The Japanese cabinets were made specifically for the European market to compete on price with European furniture markets (nothing changes!). A further example of the use of materials was seen in Marie-Antoinette's writing desk.

David Edge gave an excellent talk on weapons and armour, starting with the use of flint in axe heads followed by weapons of the Bronze and Iron ages. He then explained the development of weapons and body armour up to the 17th century when firearms started to make the use of body armour obsolete. He illustrated his talk with objects form the collection and the influence of fashion on body armour, especially for jousting. The students were allowed to handle the weapons and try on various pieces of armour and shown how it worked. The use of structure of chain-mail was mentioned and how the modern day equivalent is used in protective work wear butchers and foresters.

The presentation after lunch given by Dr. Lucy Di Silvio (Guy's Hospital, Kings College London) covered the use of materials in the biomedical field and the relationship between strength, microstructure and biocompatibility. This was illustrated by the use of reconstruction of a human eye socket using Bioglass®. The use of scaffolds to support bone growth and the associated stem cell research was mentioned in relation to the increasing number of orthopaedic implants that will be necessary in the future.

The subsequent presentation by (Imperial College London) focused on the understanding of the requirements for the materials in a number of engineering and scientific disciplines. He emphasised the necessary to understand the importance of materials microstructure if we wish to use them in various applications, illustrated by turbine blades in aircraft engines and armour materials in military vehicles. He also managed to encourage the students to put their teachers on the spot during questions, unsuccessfully it must be said.

The finale presentation was given by Dr. Peter Barham (Bristol University) who spoke about the ‘physics of ice cream', again developing the theme of structure in relation to ice and ice cream. He illustrated his talk with demonstrations of various states of matter using ice, salt and liquid nitrogen. The students participated in all the presentations with questions but probably thought that to end a lecture with ice cream was a bonus or pretty cool.

The London Materials Society is appreciative of the time and effort of the staff of the Wallace Collection (especially ¬Emmajane Lawrence, who put together the program for the day) as well as the speakers from the universities, without whom none of the above would have been possible.