Wednesday 30 December 2020

Current exhibition: Being me

Unfortunately, MoDiP will remain closed unil further notice.  However, you can still view our current exhibition online.

Being me: plastics and the body

The problems that plastics can create for the human body are now becoming better understood. Plastics materials cause health issues for people in a variety of ways, most notably through microplastics entering the food chain via pollution in our seas, and when chemicals, such as bisphenol-A (BPA), leach from containers through our food and into our blood streams. However, through good design and use, plastics materials enable us to maintain our bodies and express ourselves in ways that empower us to be human.

Being me: plastics and the body explores the ways in which plastics materials, and the products made from them, help us to be ourselves; by changing our shape, keeping us safe, aiding us when our bodies struggle, and by keeping us alive. From prosthetics with life-like qualities, supporting amputees both physically and emotionally, to sportswear that helps athletes move faster and more efficiently, the objects on display show the ways we can maintain our physical attributes and become superhuman.

Louise Dennis, Curator of MoDiP

Wednesday 23 December 2020

Material value – Christmas tree

As Curator of MoDiP, I find myself talking a lot about the understanding of the material value of plastics. That is to say, showing that the material family is not made up of ‘cheap’ materials that do not matter, or that are made into inconsequential objects that can be thrown away without thought. We hear so much about the disposability of single-use plastics and how they are bad for the environment but we do not hear so much about how objects are reused. The reuse of plastics objects that are designed to have a long life is vital to make sure that their material value is realised.

At this time of year many families will be debating the environmental difference between a real Christmas tree and an artificial one. According to an Independent article from last year:

  • A natural two-metre Christmas tree that does not have roots and is disposed of into a landfill after Christmas produces a carbon footprint of around 16kg of CO2.
  • A two-metre tree that has roots and is properly disposed of after its use — by burning it on a bonfire, planting it or having it chipped — has a carbon footprint of around 3.5kg of CO2, four and a half times less.
  • On the other hand, a two-metre Christmas tree made from plastic has a carbon footprint measuring at around 40kg of CO2, more than 10 times greater than a properly disposed of real tree.

Therefore, if you have an artificial tree, you would need to use it for at least 10 years in order for its environmental impact to equal that of a responsibly-disposed natural tree.​ That is, if it has been built to last that long. (Barr 2019)

There are many artificial trees that will not last very long because their construction or the materials that are used to create them are not robust enough to withstand being put up and taken down multiple times. My Mum’s tree, on the other hand, has been going strong for at least 35 years, if not more, this is the only tree that I remember. By continue to use it, my Mum has certainly got her money’s worth, and more than the materials’ environmental spend was worth out of this plastics object.

The four feet slot into a central core which has a hole in the middle for the trunk. The trunk itself is in two pieces and has a metal sheet curled round to give strength. It is finally topped off with a cone shape of mini branches.

I love the moulded detail at points where it will be seen e.g. the base of the finial, at the branching points, and the base of the trunk. Where the trunk is less visible the detail of bark is less sophisticated.

The branches each have a letter denoting into which branching layer they should be placed.

The tops of the branches have more ‘needles’ than the underside and each of the ‘needles’ are like a mini tree in themselves with a two-tone green effect giving depth to the branches. Going up the tree the branches get smaller to create a lovely, smooth, conical shape.

The finished article is a handsome tree with enough space between each layer of branches for baubles, lights and tinsel.

Like many families, the decorations on the tree have personal meaning. My Mum’s tree will always have this little polystyrene spaceship and lorry. They may not seem very Christmassy on first glance but I believe they represent the toys you might find under the tree. They have always been there and would be sadly missed if they were not there.

From a material value point of view, this 1980s tree has proved its worth by being taken apart and put away safely each year, only to come out the next year to be put back together. It has had dogs’ tails wagged against it, cats have been up it, and house rabbits have nibbled it and yet it still looks as if it has many years of life left in it. It would be great to hear your stories of your family’s artificial tree. Do you have an older tree? Or even the same tree? What about other decorations that come out each year?

All images very kindly taken by my sister, Sarah Dennis, as I haven’t been able to visit the old tree… I mean my Mum recently.

Louise Dennis, Curator of MoDiP


Barr, S., 2019. Are artificial or real Christmas trees better for the environment? [online]. The Independent. Available from: [Accessed 30 Nov 2020].


Wednesday 16 December 2020

Closed for Christmas

Like the rest of the AUB campus, MoDiP is now closed.  The team will be available until 21st December after which we are taking a well needed break until 4th January.

The collection and resources are still available on the website


 Louise Dennis, Curator of MoDiP

Wednesday 9 December 2020


Spoiler alert!!! I’ve just bought my nephew this for Christmas:

Image reference: Airfix model kit of a Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Ia.
Image credit: Katherine Pell

We love Airfix in our house: my husband has loads of kits relating to his interest in military history. We also love Airfix at MoDiP and I am pleased to say that we actually have a similar  model kit in the collection to the one I have just purchased, albeit a different scale and Mark. We often use it to demonstrate the manufacturing process of injection moulding. In the close-up image below, you can clearly see the frame around the parts of MoDiP’s model where the plastics material was injected into the mould. This is referred to as the runner and sprue (the smaller and larger channels respectively) and it is usually discarded after each individual part has been cut free. 

Image reference: AIBDC : 006986 MoDiP’s Supermarine Spitfire MkXII Airfix model kit
Image credit: MoDiP

There is a regular debate amongst modellers regarding what to do with this waste plastic and many have found ways to reuse it such as melting it down to use as filler, heat stretching it to make parts such as antennas and rigging or even using it for scratch building. Finding a new use for this material is reminiscent of Airfix’s early beginnings with plastics.

The company was founded in 1939 by Hungarian businessman Nicholas Kove. He began making rubber toys, the name Airfix being associated with the process of inflating air into his products. When rubber supplies were diverted for military use due to the war, Kove turned his attention to plastics and in 1947, he introduced a range of cellulose acetate combs, being the first UK manufacturer to operate an injection moulding machine. 

Airfix was then approached by the Ferguson Company to make a model of one of its tractors to be used as a promotional tool. The design team created this as a series of parts using waste cellulose acetate that was then hand assembled and boxed. By using scrap plastics in this way, some of the early tractors were multicoloured but they are now extremely rare and this image of an auctioned kit is the only example I have been able to find (if anyone has one they would like to donate to the museum, please let me know!). 

Image reference: An early, multi-coloured, cellulose acetate, Airfix Ferguson tractor model.
Image credit: 

Kove negotiated with Ferguson to allow him to sell the model tractor as a toy through the popular high street chain Woolworths. In order to meet the shop’s required retail price of two shillings, he had to replace the cellulose acetate with a more stable polystyrene and offer the toy as a self-construction kit sold disassembled in a polythene bag. 

By the early 1950s, increasing competition from other comb manufacturers led the company to end this side of their business, but whilst they were steadily expanding their range of model kits, they were still producing other general plastics products such as tea-sets and beach toys. In 1961 the company were advertising 100 different kits, which doubled over the next five years to cover 13 themes including planes, trains, cars as well as figures. By the late 1960s, 250 kits were being produced as the modelling hobby grew in popularity, and it was at this point that the Airfix brand had become synonymous with plastics scale-models.

Image reference: From artwork, to model, then mould and finally the finished kit.
Image credit:   

Katherine Pell, Collections Officer, MoDiP.


Wednesday 2 December 2020


During the first UK lockdown Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, stated “NHS and care staff protect us. Every day, while we’re safe at home, they go off to work to care for us. We owe it to them to get them the kit they need to protect themselves” (Department of Health & Social Care 2020). The kit to which he refers is personal protective equipment (PPE); this phrase has become part of everyday conversation and used almost daily in news reports and government press briefings where it had previously only resided in the lexicon of the health & safety specialist.

Although most of us going about our normal business can be protected by keeping our distance, washing our hands, and utilising reusable facemasks, disposable plastics PPE has proved vital in the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic for those in unavoidable close contact with people. When a disease is so infectious, like COVID-19, single-use PPE helps to stop the spread by blocking and containing any infectious material. It does, however, need to be the right equipment for the right job. To be effective, PPE also needs to be safely removed to avoid self-contamination, be within its expiry date, and be safely and cleanly stored.

Public Health England suggest that gloves are important to protect the hands from encountering a patient’s body fluids, such as blood, broken skin or mucous membranes and that they should be changed immediately after each patient and in some cases between each procedure on the same patient. Aprons need to be worn to protect uniform or clothes especially when a carer or member of NHS staff are providing direct care within 2 metres of a COVID-19 case, alternatively a full body gown could be used. To protect the face and eyes the suggestion for staff is to wear visors and Type IIR face masks to cover the mouth and nose, these should not be touched or allowed to hang around the neck between uses. (Public Health England 2020)

Where PPE comes in different sizes, the correct size should be selected as a good fit will ensure the best protection available. Donning (putting on) and doffing (taking off) needs to be done with great care to prevent self-contamination. Even with PPE it is important to maintain good hand hygiene using an alcohol-based solution. The first piece of equipment to put on is the long sleeve gown, followed by the mask, goggles, visor, and then finally the gloves. When removing such equipment, the gloves are the first to be removed following an 8-step procedure: ‘(1) start by pinching and holding the glove (with the other gloved hand) between the palm and wrist area, (2) peel the glove away from the wrist, (3) until it turns inside out covering the fingers. With the now half-gloved hand, (4) pinch and hold the fully gloved hand between the palm and wrist, (5) peel the glove away from the wrist (6) until it turns inside out and covers the fingers. Now that both hands are half-gloved, (7) remove the glove from one hand completely by grabbing the inside part of the glove and peeling it away from the hand, and do the same for the remaining half-gloved hand using the non-gloved hand, while always grabbing the inside part of the glove. Dispose of the gloves (8) in a biohazard bin.’

Once the gloves are removed, the hands should be cleaned with an alcohol-based solution before another set of gloves are donned to continue the removal of the rest of the PPE. Now the gown can be removed, disposable gowns should be pulled away from the body keeping the contaminated front part inside the gown. Touching the front part of the goggles should be avoided as they could be contaminated so if they are the type with an elasticated strap around the back of the head this should be used to remove them. Masks should be removed by the ear straps, and then finally the gloves should be removed and hand hygiene carried out once again (European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control 2020).

The extensive use of PPE within both the medical setting and by the general population has seen an increase in polymer sales. The production of N95-type masks in China went from 20 million units per day before the pandemic to 150 million as the virus began to spread significantly. As demands changed from one material for a particular product fell, manufacturers changed their working practices to keep their businesses going, in some cases this meant changing their equipment to cope with the new materials, one manufacturer ‘that customarily produces polyolefin film needed special dryers installed so it could run polycarbonate instead. Other firms have installed new rollers or hydraulic screws that pump molten resin. Yet others have ordered up tools to begin injection molding the long stems for the nasopharyngeal swabs used for COVID-19 tests.’ Makers of engineering polymers makers also witnessed a rush on materials for medical devices (Tullo 2020).

PPE has not only been used by the healthcare professionals, with an estimated monthly usage being estimated as 89 million medical masks, 76 million gloves, and 1.6 million goggles, but the general public have increased their usage as well. Unfortunately, this has led to the poor disposal of gloves and face masks with an increase of littering in public spaces. The fear of reusable items being carriers of the virus has also led to calls to withdraw bans on single-use plastic bags and other such items (Prata et al. 2020). There are organisations, such as TerraCycle, who are looking at ways of gathering and recycling certain types of PPE (TerraCycle 2020) but there are costs involved making it prohibitive for many individuals, however, organisations including MoDiP can have receptacles in place to collect nitrile gloves and single-use masks which are then sent off to TerracCycle to use the materials to create other products.

MoDiP has put on a small exhibition of PPE which is designed to be used in a medical and caring setting. 

MoDiP's PPE exhibition

Polythene (PE) aprons (1) offer protection from low level hazards where risk of injury is minimal. They can be removed quickly by pulling at the material which breaks easily. Such large quantities are used each day that they are purchased in bulk. However, it is important to store them properly so they do not gather dust; a potential breeding ground for bacteria. 


Disposable aprons

Face masks and shields are effective in reducing the spread of airborne disease by capturing liquid particles from the mouth and nose. Disposable masks, like the Wondo Medical Surgical Masks (2), are used extensively by frontline staff, surgeons and other medical professionals on a daily basis. Being made of three layers: an outer of non-woven polypropylene (PP), a middle layer of high efficiency blown melt material which is possibly PP, and an inner layer of non-woven polyester (which is soft against the face), they have a high bacterial filtration efficiency at more than 98%. 


Various objects of PPE on display.

Masks with ear loops can be extremely uncomfortable if worn for a whole session of 3 or 4 hours, so to alleviate the pressure and prevent wounds, flexible PP ear guards (3) are worn at the back of the head with the ear loop threaded over one set of hooks on each side. Alternative masks like the Handanhy FFP3 NR D face mask (4) have elastic straps which sit across the back of the head. This mask is graded a FFP3 which denotes the level of protection provided by the mask against very fine dust, fibres, aqueous mists and oil-based mists. FFP stands for Filtering Face Piece and NR means non-reusable. To offer additional protection, a face shield can be worn over a mask and goggles or glasses. The Barriguard face shield (5) offers high level protection to the face and eyes from airborne viruses with the foam headband offering a ‘no-gap’ design protecting the wearer from liquid or air entry. 


Thumbloop gown.

The Biogel Neoderm surgical gloves (6) have a long cuff to cover the wrist and lower arm. The inner coating of Biogel makes it easier to put them on even with wet hands and helps to soothe the skin to help prevent moisture loss. Gloves can be worn with PE gowns with long sleeves and thumbloops (7) to create good, secure, coverage of the upper body particularly during prolonged contact with fluid.


1. Disposable polythene aprons, Unknown, 2020. AIBDC : 008492

2. Face Shield Visor, Barriguard, 2010s circa. AIBDC : 008486

3. Medical Surgical Face Masks, Hunan Wondo Medical Supplies, 2020. AIBDC : 008487

4. Face mask ear guards, Fenton Precision, 2020. AIBDC : 008488.5

5. FFP3 NR D face mask, Handan Hengyong Protective & Clean Products, 2020. AIBDC : 008489

6. Biogel Neoderm gloves, Molnlycke Health Care, 2020 circa. AIBDC : 008490

7. Protective thumbloop gown, Finess Healthcare Group for Gen Med Enterprises, 2020. AIBDC : 008491

Louise Dennis, Curator of MoDiP 


Department of Health & Social Care, 2020. COVID-19: personal protective equipment (PPE) plan [online]. GOV.UK. Available from: [Accessed 26 Oct 2020].

European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, 2020. Guidance for wearing and removing personal protective equipment in healthcare settings for the care of patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 [online]. Stockholm. Available from: [Accessed 26 Oct 2020].

Prata, J. C., Silva, A. L. P., Walker, T. R., Duarte, A. C., and Rocha-Santos, T., 2020. COVID-19 Pandemic Repercussions on the Use and Management of Plastics. Environmental Science & Technology, 54 (13), 7760–7765.

Public Health England, 2020. COVID-19 infection prevention and control guidance [online]. Available from: [Accessed 26 Oct 2020].

TerraCycle, 2020. TerraCycle [online]. TerraCycle. Available from: [Accessed 26 Oct 2020].

Tullo, A., 2020. Plastics during the pandemic. C&EN Global Enterprise, 98, 24–25.