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Farewell, Wonder Materials

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Award-winning exhibition with Northern Soul closes—ready for an international tour

On 23 June 2017, following a successful run of just under a year, we bid farewell to our Wonder Materials: Graphene and Beyond exhibition. We’re sad to see it being packed up, but equally excited to be sending it off on its tour around the world. It’s also a great point to reflect on some of the fantastic achievements for the team and the exhibition over the last 11 months, topped off by winning the Northern Soul award for Exhibition of the Year 2017 on 29 June.

The exhibition kicked off with an opening event where we were treated to a performance by Lemn Sissay of The World Wakes, a poem we commissioned him to write specially for the exhibition.

Lemn Sissay at MSI

Lemn Sissay reads his original poem about graphene, written specially for the Wonder Materials exhibition: The World Wakes

Since the exhibition opened in July 2016, we’ve had a staggering 268,633 visitors to the exhibition, far exceeding our expectations. We are immensely proud of our fantastic team of Wonder Materials volunteers, who were on hand to provide a warm welcome to the exhibition and chat to visitors about what graphene means to them.

Volunteer at MSI

One of our team of volunteers who welcomed visitors to the Wonder Materials exhibition

The judges of the Northern Soul Awards particularly recognised the quality of the programme of activities and events that accompanied the exhibition. For example, soon after launch, we were delighted to welcome Nobel laureate Sir Andre Geim to a fully booked, lively In Conversation event at the museum with Roger Highfield.

Sir Andre Geim in conversation with Roger Highfield at the Museum of Science and Industry

Sir Andre Geim in conversation with Roger Highfield at the Museum of Science and Industry

Meanwhile, our Explainer team delivered a science workshop designed for Key Stage 3 pupils called Creative Science: Wonder Materials, in a specially designed area of the exhibition called The Hive. The workshop invited pupils to ‘Take a giant step into a nanoscale adventure and peel back the layers of the world’s newest wonder material, graphene’.

KS3 pupils enjoying the Creative Science: Wonder Materials science workshop in The Hive

KS3 pupils enjoying the Creative Science: Wonder Materials science workshop in The Hive

We were also inspired by a group of musicians who took part in Anna Meredith’s Brighter Sound Artistic Directors Series Residency at the Museum in late July 2016. She brought together a diverse group of female musicians to create music and art, taking inspiration from the Wonder Materials exhibition. The group performed live as part of Science in the City Late on 27 July 2016, alongside other experimental attractions such as mind control Scalextric and insect sushi.

Two musicians rehearsing in the Liverpool Road ticket office as part of Brighter Sounds

Two musicians rehearsing in the Liverpool Road ticket office as part of Brighter Sounds

Another great achievement by our Learning team was a collaborative project with the Greater Manchester Higher. Our team challenged outreach groups from the University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University, and the National Graphene Institute to develop classroom activities for Key Stage 3 students. The outcome was a brilliant resource box: seven hands-on activities, guidance documents for delivery, profiles of scientists working in related fields, and outlines of potential careers that the students might pursue, with each activity designed to link to one of graphene’s incredible material properties.

One of our resource boxes. Most of the 50 resource boxes were distributed free to local schools, some stayed here for use in sessions in The Hive, and some will go on international tour with the exhibition.

One of our resource boxes. Most of the 50 resource boxes were distributed free to local schools, some stayed here for use in sessions in The Hive, and some will go on international tour with the exhibition.

It’s been an exhilarating few years, researching, developing and delivering the exhibition, and then filling its time here with a provocative series of related events and activities. Winning the Northern Soul award is a real testament to the hard work and dedication every department in the museum put in to create an exhibition on a substance you can’t even see with the naked eye but that is set to change the way we live. It’s been an absolute honour to celebrate graphene in the city where it was born—now it will tour and spread this fantastic story of Manchester innovation and creativity around the world.

Written by Sarah Baines

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