Wednesday, 28 December 2022

Endurance - in a coldstore

One of the cases in our current exhibition, Endurance, looks at what workers in a coldstore need to keep them at a healthy body temperature.  Hot and cold working spaces are assessed for risk under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Under this act, organisations and companies are expected to do what is ‘reasonably practicable’ to protect their employees and visitors. There are some workplaces which are extremely hot or cold and measures need to be put into place to ensure that staff are not harmed by such environments. These measures could be in the form of rest periods, appropriate rotas, or the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE). Extended exposure to cold can cause health issues that range from frostnip, the early stage of frostbite where the skin becomes cold and numb, to hypothermia, which causes shivering, slow breathing, tiredness, and confusion, as well as pale cold skin, and slurred speech. Effective PPE for chilled environments, down to -5°C, and frozen environments, -5°C and below, include thermal undergarments, jacket and trousers, gloves, safety boots or shoes with thermal socks, and a hat or balaclava.  One item of clothing which helps to keep a warehouse employee safe is the FlexiTog Endurance Active Coldstore Jacket.


FlexiTog Endurance Active Coldstore Jacket AIBDC : 009328

FlexiTog Endurance Active Coldstore Jacket, image provided by FlexiTog.

This jacket coat incorporates Vivo Teknica technology by Clo Insulation which keeps the wearer at an optimum temperature, even when highly active. This breathable insulation has been utilised in the high sweat areas of the garment to help regulate the body temperature and keep the wearer comfortable. The Vivo Teknica material is 100% recycled polyester made from post-consumer waste bottles sourced in Europe locally to where it is manufactured. Due to the use of tiny fibres and a unique fabric structure, this product allows moisture vapor to pass through making it breathable and improving overall comfort. The addition of perforated holes in this sample, which are big enough to allow moisture vapor to escape yet small enough to retain warmth, increase the breathability by 30% compared to the non-perforated material.

FlexiTog Endurance Active Coldstore Jacket AIBDC : 009374 

Louise Dennis, Curator of MoDiP

Wednesday, 21 December 2022

The life of a MoDiP volunteer.

We are very lucky to have a volunteer join us every Wednesday morning. Her name is Maxine and she retired from working at the AUB Library a few years ago. Wanting to contribute something back, she very kindly volunteered her services to the museum in 2020 and has been a member of the team ever since.

Maxine has been involved in all aspects of museum work, starting with organising the MoDiP Library. She stamped the books for us and gave each one a unique museum number so that we could set up a searchable catalogue record to go on our object database and website. In the image below, she is carefully writing the number in a conservation grade pencil and the MoDiP stamp can be seen, bottom, centre. The books are not security tagged so they are not available for open access, but they can be viewed in the museum, on request.

Accessioning the MoDiP library.
Image credit: Katherine Pell

After that job was finished, she began helping us with our ongoing Collections Review programme. We are assessing each of our objects to ensure that they continue to offer relevance to the work of the museum. Firstly, we are looking at whether the objects contain plastics content or context, as there are a number that were collected prior to 2007 when the museum changed its focus to become MoDiP. Maxine has helped locate objects, make assessment referrals, deaccession items and pack up objects to send them on to new homes within other museum collections across the UK.

In the summer of 2021, MoDiP took receipt of a legacy of casein objects that we will be jointly caring for alongside the Plastics Historical Society. The objects arrived in a muddle of boxes that all needed to be organised so that we could make sense of what had been gifted. Maxine stepped forward and spent several weeks carefully unwrapping each piece, documenting and photographing it before re-storing the collection into a MoDiP box with acid-free tissue paper. Later this year we will begin the process of accessioning everything so that we can start to put some of these beautiful objects out on display.

Documenting the casein objects.
Image credit: Katherine Pell

One of Maxine’s most recent tasks has been helping us to treat the Worshipful Company of Horner’s collection with neatsfoot oil. This is a conditioning treatment that prevents the horn from drying out and in the image below, she can be seen applying a small amount of the compound via a cotton swab. With over 600 items to examine, it will still be a few months before this project is completed!

Cleaning the collection of horn.
Image credit: Katherine Pell

We are very grateful to Maxine for all of her hard work and would like to say a very big thank you to her and all of the people that have kindly offered their time and skills to the museum over the years.

Katherine Pell
Collections Officer.

Wednesday, 14 December 2022

Groasis Waterboxx plant cocoon, Pieter Hoff, 2009.

A desert is commonly defined as an area of land that has less than 25cm of precipitation in a year; a climate that is too dry to support extensive vegetation. Despite this problem, people have managed to survive in these hostile regions for thousands of years. Methods for accessing water supplies have included the transferal of water, for example through modifying river systems, building canals and dams, or the abstraction of groundwater, such as drilling into underground aquifers. However, these solutions are very expensive and can be unsustainable; if communities use water faster than it can be replenished then shortages will occur.

MoDiP’s current exhibition, Endurance – in the desert.
Image credit: MoDiP

The Waterboxx plant cocoon from Groasis is one alternative approach, currently on display in the museum as part of the exhibition, Endurance (refer image above). It was designed by company founder Pieter Hoff, a Dutch Lily breeder, who had been travelling across the world to import and export bulbs. In 2003 he became aware of customers reporting declining water tables caused by drip irrigation and he began to consider potential solutions for planting in degraded land in a water-saving way.

Within one year, he had built a model of his very first Waterboxx plant cocoon (refer image above, on the left), made from iron and circular in shape with a diameter of one meter. A further year of development saw the introduction of plastics materials (polypropylene), moulded over a square former (centre image, above). Fifty of these were produced and tested in the Sahara Desert. The design was altered again in 2006 to a rectangle (above, right), but Hoff discovered that the long sides of the box were now too weak for hot climates. Reinforcement of the walls required more raw material, which then raised the price of production. After continuous and extensive development, testing and adaptation, the finalised round model design was introduced in 2008 (refer image below) and manufacturing began in 2009 with a further testing of 30,000 units in 19 different countries.

Cross-section diagram of t
he Waterboxx® plant cocoon.
Image credit:

So how does it work?
Injection moulded in polypropylene (PP), the green coloured water reservoir is placed over trees, shrubs, flowers or vegetables, which grow though the opening in the middle of the container. The beige-coloured lid is grooved to collect and funnel water from rain and dew into the storage cistern, with two blue coloured siphons guiding the water in and a cap sealing the unit, both designed to prevent evaporation. A black coloured centre plate sits beneath the lid to promote condensation water production on the underside, and a polyamide (PA) wick drips a continuous supply of water through to the plant; enough to ensure survival whilst encouraging the development of the taproot. Any stored water stabilises the temperature underneath the Waterboxx, creating a micro-climate which further supports growth.

The Waterboxx can be removed after one year, by which time the plant will have become established with deep roots and able to survive without assistance. The product can then be re-used, up to ten times, and MoDiP’s example includes an optional Growsafe Telescoprotexx plant protector, a sheet of PP which when folded into a tube to wrap around the plant, prevents damage from grazing animals and offers additional frost, storm and wind protection.

A Beechwood tree grown in Ecuador at the 2,5,7 and 13 month stage of growth.
Image credit:

The system has now been successfully applied in over 40 countries and has been proven to save time, water and money as plants grow faster and are more productive. The technology has been commercially available since 2011 and has won numerous innovation and environmental excellence awards, including being appointed a 'National Icon' by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs in 2016. Since then, Groasis has contributed to reforestation, food production and ecosystem restoration projects across the globe, testing the Waterboxx in extreme conditions such as within the deserts of Kuwait and the Galapagos Islands.

You can see this ingenious object on display in the museum until 10th March 2023.

Katherine Pell
Collections Officer

Wednesday, 7 December 2022

Designated Design seminar

In this week’s blog post we would like to look back on an afternoon seminar we held at AUB on 1st December in partnership with TheGallery.  The seminar sat alongside our Designated Design: a plastics collection of national importance exhibition both of which are a celebration of, and thank you to, Professor Susan Lambert who has headed up the museum since it took the step to focus on design in plastics.   MoDiP was established in 2007 having emerged from an existing collection of designed objects at the AUB, Susan saw a specialist and underrepresented vein running through that collection and nurtured it to become internationally recognised with impact on the academic, museum, and public spheres.

Designated Design: a plastics collection of national importance exhibition. Image credit Eliza Naden.

The event was kicked off with a hearty welcome from AUB’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Paul Gough.  This was followed by a session exploring the work of three artists who have worked in different media and in different ways with MoDiP’s collection.  The first speaker was Mariele Neudecker, an artist who took part in a residency at MoDiP in 2015 entitled Plastic Vanitas.  Plastic Vanitas was a series of 49 photographs each one representing the entire contents of a box of stored objects from the MoDiP collection. These boxes were chosen because they contained at least one object that represented the symbolism found in 16th and 17th century Vanitas paintings. Mariele’s self-imposed rule was that whatever else was in the box was to form part of the still life. 

The next presentation was from Karen Wimhurst, MoDiP’s first Musician-in-Residence, who described w-RAP one, a performance she created alongside pupils from Ferndown Upper school in 2018, w-RAP two, a piece written by Karen featuring soprano Brittany Soriano (soprano), Elaine Close (trumpet) and Ole Rudd (vinyl), again in 2018, and w-RAP three, a collage of soundscapes from w-RAP one and two.  These projects subsequently feed into the chamber opera Synthetica: a toxic enchantment in 2019.   

Finally, we heard from Frances Scott, who had visited MoDiP in 2019 as part of her role as Resident Artist for the Raw Materials: Plastics exhibition, exploring the forgotten history of plastics in east London and held at the Nunnery Gallery. Frances spent time with the collection, scanning objects for her filmPHX [X is for Xylonite]’ through which she wanted to explore the relationship between the first semi-synthetic plastics and the chemical and industrial development of photography and film. We were treated to an excerpt of the film (the entire piece is currently on display in TheGallery), with a soundtrack featuring readings from Roland Barthes’ classic essay ‘Plastics’ (1957).

All of the artists were then invited to join together for a panel discussion chaired by Professor Paul Gough.  All three artists spoke warmly about their time connecting with the museum and the collection, and it was a pleasure to work with each of them.

Mariele Neudecker in front of some of the Plastic Vanitas photographs (image credit: Eliza Naden), Karen Wimhurst performing a new piece (image credit Eliza Naden), a still from Frances Scott’s PHX [X is for Xylonite] (image credit Frances Scott).

The second session was hosted by Dr Anna Farthing, AUB’s Director of Civic and Cultural Engagement, and explored the value of the status of ‘Designated Outstanding Collection’.  Speakers came from a range of museums, some of which had collections recognised by Arts Council England in the earliest days of the scheme in late 1990s, and others had been awarded the status more recently.

The museum speakers were Kate Arnold-Forster - Director, University Museums and Special Collections Services, University of Reading and Director, Museum of English Rural Life, Andrea Bishop - Director of Collections & Engagement, National Motor Museum, Carolyn Abel - Director of Culture, Southampton City Council, and Jo Elsworth - Associate Director (Culture and Collections), Library Services + Director: Theatre Collection, Faculty of Arts, University of Bristol.

Panel discussion led by Dr Anna Farthing with Andrea Bishop, Carolyn Abel, and Jo Elsworth.  Kate Arnold-Forster presenting. Image credits Eliza Naden.

The collections and experiences shared were fascinating.  Many of the same themes came up from all four speakers.  They spoke about how the status of designation made the staff think about the meaning and importance of the collections in their care, and how it gave the staff pride and a heightened sense of responsibility.   The status meant that designers and artists wanted to be associated with the collections, and other stakeholders, including senior managers, began to understand their importance.   The most significant statement that came out of the session was that the assessment was made independently.  We can all say that our collections are special but as the accolade has been awarded by an independent, external body it means that the status is confirmation of the significance of our collections.

We would like to thank everyone involved in the event including Paul and Anna for chairing the two sessions, our colleagues in TheGallery, the Civic and Cultural Engagement team, and BA (Hons) Events Management colleagues who supported the online streaming of the event.  We would especially like to thank all the speakers who made the seminar so interesting, and the delegates who joined us.

Louise Dennis, Curator, and Katherine Pell, Collections Officer

Wednesday, 30 November 2022

Joining Forces

MoDiP is very proud to be one of only 33 university museums in 16 institutions to receive funding from Research England to support our research.

With funding from Research England’s Participatory Research Fund, we recently had the opportunity to reflect on our research and it made us aware of the extent to which we participate with people from other organisations. In particular we convene the Plastics Subject Specialist Network (Plastics SSN), one of Arts Council England’s 37 recognised Subject Specialist Networks. Their purpose is to ‘support the development knowledge and care of collections… All the Networks share expertise, ideas and best practice. This is often in the form of research projects, conference days, mentoring and developing best practice guidance’.

The Identifying Plastics Toolkit (left) and
Confronting Plastics Preservation project (right)

Since the refocusing of our collection on design in plastics in 2007, we have worked on three significant projects with the Plastics SSN: A curator’s guide to plastics; Identifying plastics toolkit; and Confronting Plastics Preservation, and currently are coming to the end of a further Plastics SSN project undertaken jointly with the Dress and Textiles Specialists’: A curator’s guide to synthetic garments. We have also undertaken two other joint projects: 10 Most Wanted and Symbiosis. The first, in partnership with the University of Brighton and Adaptive Technologies, aimed to develop a resource to engage the public with finding out information about objects in collections thus engaging them with collections in a new way.  The second brought small specialist museums together to explore how they could engage with their particular industry to mutual advantage and to develop workforce skills in this respect.

The 10 Most Wanted project was undertaken in partnership
with the University of Brighton and Adaptive Technologies

Analysis of these projects has led us to consider what we do in terms of ‘participatory research’, a form of research in which the clear distinction between the ‘researcher’ and ‘the subject’ becomes blurred with the research being conducted ‘with’ rather than ‘on’ participants. Most often this has been seen as research jointly undertaken between those researching a subject and those affected by the research, with the latter often characterised as ‘not trained in research’. However, we propose a new model of participatory research: one in which experts working in museums create resources for their own benefit, albeit ultimately in order to improve public engagement with the subject.

The Joining Forces resource is available online.

This new resource, downloadable from our website, provides a brief introduction to participatory research and an overview of participatory research in museums. It also looks at this alternative model and provides summary guidelines on how to undertake it based on an analysis of the six MoDiP projects which underpin the model.

Do tell us what you think

Joining forces: exploring participatory research in museums is a peer-reviewed resource. We would be so grateful if you were to read it and let us know what you think. Have you undertaken research with partners in similar ways or has it made you see new ways you might get together with people to investigate your subject? How can we improve the resource? We have found that working with others in this way has developed and extended our practice and we hope that other museums, small and large, may be helped by this resource to undertake participatory research and thus benefit from what has for MoDiP been a fruitful research pathway. Please do get in touch:


Susan Lambert
Chief Curator

Wednesday, 23 November 2022

XCountry 118 touring pulk, Fjellpulken, 2021.

When I began researching the ‘polar’ case for MoDiP’s Endurance exhibition, I came across an expedition report written by a team from Imperial College London in 2005. It recorded the experiences of a group of four students who had crossed the Greenland ice cap, unsupported, the previous year, collecting a variety of hydrological, meteorological and physiological data along the way. It made for a fascinating read and was a great opportunity to find out exactly what this momentous 560km crossing actually entails; from the initial planning stages right through to lessons learnt once everyone had returned home safely.

The report provided an appendix with comprehensive equipment lists, and it was from these that I made the decision to concentrate on just one object for my case: the pulk (refer image below).


MoDiP’s pulk, AIBDC : 009127.
Image credit:

The presence of plastics materials within all the kit required to sustain life on such a journey is so vast, I could not see how I could possibly represent everything fairly within just one small display case. For example, the Imperial College trip involved pulks, hauling harnesses, pulk bags, ropes, skis, ski poles, ski boots, gaiters, tents, sleeping mats, bags and liners, water carriers and bottles, personal locator beacons, compasses, maps, a satellite phone, whistles, first aid kits, rubbish bags, wash kits, goggles, balaclavas, insulated jackets, thermal base layers, waterproof jackets and trousers, socks, a variety of gloves, boots and, of course, packaged food (and I have not even listed here everything that they took!). Clearly the pulk becomes a lifeline; the source of safety, navigation, health, hygiene, climbing, skiing, drinking, eating, cooking, camping and clothing.

The contents of a pulk for polar exploration.
Image credit:

A pulk is another name for a small sled, typically towed behind a skier and particularly popular in the Nordic countries. Boat-shaped to glide on top of the snow, they have been recorded in use for centuries, and were traditionally made of natural materials such as wood with animal skin covers. Modern versions are now made in plastics, such as MoDiP’s example from Fjellpulken, which has a glass-fibre reinforced polyester hull which was hand-casted in a mould. Once dry, the RipStop polyester covers were then fitted, and the runners and shaft attachments mounted into place.

The runners on the bottom of the pulk.
Image credit: Katherine Pell

We have also put a harness and hauling ropes on display to indicate how the pulk would be used in practice. Although rigid pole systems are becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to ropes, we would not have been able to fit an example into our cases! We believe the ropes are made of polypropylene with aluminium carabiner hooks for easy connection, welded rings and a shock absorbing rubber line. They were sold as part of a tyre pulling kit, which is common training for polar expeditions where pulks are being employed.

A rope hauling system (left) and a rigid pole system (right).
Image credit:

There are advantages and disadvantages to both hauling systems. Whilst ropes enhance mobility, absorb shock, are useful in lifting or lowering the pulk over ridges, and practical in retrieving the pulk if it tips or gets stuck, they can present difficulties on a steep downward slope when the weight of the pulk becomes dangerous (essentially, it can run into your heels or even overtake you on the descent!). A rigid cross-pole system can provide stability and control but needs to be detached when access to the pulk is required or in a crevasse rescue situation.
Pulks are available in a variety of forms, sizes and weights, each suited to a particular application. MoDiP’s touring pulk is one of the smallest lengths available (selected on the basis of its ability to fit into the display case) and is designed to carry the equivalent load of two rucksacks. The width is calculated to ensure ease of movement and directional stability through snow.

It is a thing of beauty and I want one, despite the fact that I live in Bournemouth which rarely gets any snow (apparently the area has an average of only 4 snowfall days each year, with only 12mm snow actually accumulating on the ground!).

Heron looking confused (and cold) on my neighbour’s roof. March 2018.
Image credit: Katherine Pell

Endurance will be on display in the museum until 10th March 2023.
Katherine Pell
Collections Officer

Wednesday, 16 November 2022

K-Fair – The Plastic Industry Showcase.

What is K Fair?

As one of the premier events in the plastic industry calendar the 2022 K Fair marked the 70th anniversary of the show. Held every 3 years because it is so big, the K fair brings together thousands of plastics industry exhibitors to showcase the latest technology in materials, semi-finished products, machinery, specialist components, as well as services, research and science. Anyone with an interest in plastics is there (myself included).

K Fair 2022 themes - Circular economy, digitalisation and climate protection

Each edition of the K Fair focuses on themes which are affecting the industry. As was the case at the previous K Fair, the 2022 themes were predominantly environmental. Many of the exhibitors were promoting improved recycling processes and new materials with increased recycled content.

Gneuss recycled pellets
Image credit: Jon Burgess

Sabic Recycled Grades

Polymer supplier Sabic were heavily marketing their Trucircle range as their response to the challenges of circularity (they supplied PP for many of the tooling and machinery demonstrations). Sabic also had a display of products that demonstrated the potential of their new range – including a computer mouse made of ocean plastic, children’s toys and food containers.

Microsoft Corporation ‘Ocean Plastic Mouse’ (Xenoy PC/PET)
Image credit: Jon Burgess

Sabic PP products
Image credit: Jon Burgess

Plastic processing machinery

The range of moulding machinery on display was impressive and included: a blown film machine the size of a house; all sizes of injection moulding machines demonstrating a range of technologies for insert moulding and over moulding; a range of 3D printers with different materials and capabilities; extrusion moulding; and blow moulding.

3 story Blown film moulding machine
Image credit: Jon Burgess

Large format 3D printer – able to print items 10m³
Image credit: Jon Burgess


Attending the show provided a great opportunity to see the latest technology in plastic manufacturing and to understand the challenges the industry faces. It was disappointing not to see more biodegradable polymers for mass production applications – it will be interesting to see the progress at the next K-Fair in 2025.

Dr Jon Burgess
Postdoctoral Researcher - Materials Processes

Image credit: Jon Burgess

Wednesday, 9 November 2022

Endurance - in a fire

This post is part of a series of closer looks at aspects in our current exhibition, Endurance. Here I am going to explore a couple of objects in the case looking at fire safety. The objects that I am looking at take their inspiration from glass fire grenades which were used between 1870 and 1910. These extinguishers were designed to be decorative objects that came is different shapes and colours. In the event of a fire, they would be thrown at the flames. On impact the glass outer would break releasing the liquid contents which would supress the flames. They lost favour as it became apparent that they contained dangerous chemicals. 

The Firevase is a modern version of this technology made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and filled with liquid potassium carbonate. The firevase, designed to also hold flowers, was created as part of a fire safety project in South Korea where an estimated 10,000 residential fires occur every year. 100,000 firevases were handed out to households in fire-prone areas between September and December 2018. 

Firevase, Cheil Worldwide for Samsung Fire and Marine Insurance, 2018.  AIBDC : 009357

The AFO Fire Extinguisher ball, thought to be made of a foam casing wrapped in PVC, does not need to be thrown at a fire as it will self-activate when it comes into contact with the flames. It also produces a loud sound which will serve as an alarm for people nearby. Some people use it in the engine bay of their vehicles where it would prevent any fire outbreak before it may otherwise be detected.

Fire Extinguisher Ball, AFO, circa 2015.  AIBDC : 009339 

Louise Dennis, Curator of MoDiP

Wednesday, 2 November 2022

Designated Design: A collection of national importance

Last week MoDiP opened its latest exhibition, Designated Design: A collection of national importance. It celebrates the wonderful accolade we received earlier this year when Arts Council England awarded the museum Designated Outstanding Collection status. The exhibition is based upon themes taken from the original application we put forward, such as considering the scope and scale of the collection and its research potential. We have spent several months working with colleagues from within the AUB’s External Engagement team planning layouts, acquiring display furniture and designing the space etc. so this has truly been a collaborative effort.

Image credit: elizanaden_photography

The image above shows the exhibition curators, Professor Susan Lambert (left) and Dr Louise Dennis (right), standing in front of a mind map illustrated by commissioned artist Bridie Cheeseman. It is a great way of visually representing the work of the museum and takes up the central wall in the lower gallery.

Also to be found in this area are examples of the MoDiP Student Creative project, run each year as a bursary awarded opportunity for AUB students to produce an output inspired by the museum and/or its objects, as well as three examples of projects undertaken by external artists, who have each interpreted the collection in a different way.

Image credit: elizanaden_photography

The main area of the upper gallery features some of MoDiP’s large objects as well as a variety of plastics design classics (refer image below). We were able to re-configure some frames acquired for a previous exhibition within which we have placed objects on open display. It was quite tricky stabilising the Pinarello road bike (refer image below), despite the fact that it has a carbon fibre frame so is incredibly lightweight. We were very grateful to receive assistance from two of our colleagues in AUB Modelmaking – big thanks to Paul Johnson for helping me to hold the bike whilst Louise secured it, and to Gideon Bohannon for pumping up the tyres!

Image credit: elizanaden_photography

We have included some handling collection objects to demonstrate the plastics materials most frequently encountered within museum collections. Visitors are encouraged to pick these up to feel the differences, with some great examples of fake fur, inflatable PVC and bakelite. Once the exhibition closes, we will develop this learning resource into another MoDiP grab box, which will be available for loan to groups interested in finding out more about this amazing material family.

Image credit: elizanaden_photography

The past few weeks, as deadlines were looming, have seen a flurry of activity (refer image below) with the team also having to endure Covid and heavy colds at the same time! But we got there in the end! 

Image credit: MoDiP and TheGallery

Designated Design: A collection of national importance, will be on display in TheGallery until 22nd December 2022.

Katherine Pell
Collections Officer