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