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

Selecting ‘origin story’ objects

The isolation of graphene was a headline science story of the new millennium, and since the initial research was published in 2004 (Novoselov et al, 2004), the new material has been subjected to a great deal of media attention, with important related products presented as imminent. When these expectations were not realised, there was a perception that graphene had failed to live up to expectations (Colapinto, 2014). The Wonder Materials content team were wary of contributing to the unrealistic expectations heaped on graphene. The aim of Wonder Materials was to go beyond product-focused expectation and subsequent narratives of perceived disappointment and instead focus on the inspiration and wonder that comes with an exciting new area of scientific exploration. The content team were inspired by the curiosity and playfulness in Geim and Novoselov’s scientific approach and decided that this would set the tone for presentation and interpretation of graphene in the exhibition. This approach resonated with our intention to follow the recent cultural ‘shift in focus from science as a finished product to science as a continuous process – science in the making’ (Filippoupoliti, 2010, p 21).

No object in the exhibition captures Geim and Novoselov’s approach better than an ordinary sticky tape dispenser. We made this the first object visitors encountered on entering the exhibition, displayed alongside two replica Nobel medals. The contrast between these items creates provocative dissonance. The juxtaposition of these objects – one cheap, mass produced and mundane, the others gold-plated and a famous mark of the highest level of achievement – is intended to spark curiosity. The placement of the sticky tape dispenser alongside these famous symbols of recognition and achievement visually illustrates the extraordinary origin story of graphene. When developing the content for Wonder Materials, we were wary of falling back on a traditional hagiographic narrative. Instead we decided to display these objects together to introduce the story of how a curious, playful approach led to the highest honour in science.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/181004/002