Go back to article: From 2D to 3D: the story of graphene in objects


Looking at contemporary collecting around graphene serves as a useful case study for all collecting of contemporary science as it is a particularly fast-moving area identified in the science world and in the media as an area of great interest. There is an imperative for the Museum of Science and Industry to engage in contemporary collecting around graphene, and the benefits and challenges the curatorial team have identified are of relevance for ongoing contemporary collecting strategy and practice.

The Museum has benefitted greatly from working with the scientists involved shortly after the discovery for which they were globally recognised. The relationship developed with the lead scientists and their wider team allowed the Museum to access mundane and surprising personal artefacts, which we know are great for helping visitors engage with personal stories and are very popular with our audiences. This benefit also brings with it the risk of over-closeness to the protagonists of the science story we are telling and their view of events. Immediate contemporary collecting and the display of current personal material does not allow for the increased reflection and critique which inevitably comes with time. On balance, the rare opportunity to engage directly with the key scientists and gain their insight and access to their material culture outweighs any temptation there might be to over-collect to cover all potential future narratives.

Science is a process. Another advantage of collecting contemporary science objects is that the process of collecting, and the objects themselves, support the communication of science as an active process. This narrative of open, live science aligns with the Science Museum Group mission to inspire future generations. The message of Wonder Materials – curiosity, creativity and play in scientific approach – was informed and supported by the review and collecting of material culture undertaken by the curatorial team.

Graphene is a new material. It is exciting because we don’t know exactly where its biggest impact will be. Museums must employ strategies to review and collect the material culture of contemporary science so that collections can be enriched not only with the iconic, presentable remnants traditionally preserved, but the ordinary everyday items which bring the story to life – a battered sticky tape dispenser, perhaps.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/181004/017