Material Matters Conference - 2-3 April 2012, London

The Royal College of Art is pleased to announce the inaugural Inspiring Matter conference to take place at the Royal College of Art in London on April 2nd & 3rd 2012.

Inspiring Matter will provide you with a unique insider’s view of how some of the world’s leading designers, scientists, artists and anthropologists think and work within materials research and innovation, and enable you to be in at the start of an important new series of materials-based events and research activities which the RCA is launching at the conference.

We have asked our presenters – including physicist Professor Sir Richard Friend (University of Cambridge), Anna Valtonen (ex Head, Nokia design-research, now Rector, Umea Design Institute), architect Mike Davies (Rogers Stirk Harbour) and anthropologist Professor Susanne Küchler (University College London) – to talk frankly about how they work across disciplines, how they tackle the challenges of collaboration, and how they find and apply inspiration in their work with materials.

Having heard these unique experiences and insights, there will be plenty of opportunity for you to share ideas, experiences and questions both with the speakers and with your peers from the worlds of art, design, the humanities and science. Inspiring Matter is the beginning of a new RCA-based community which will facilitate useful and inspiring dialogue across materials-related disciplines. We look forward to you joining us in this initiative, and to welcoming you to the RCA for Inspiring Matter.

How to book your place at Inspiring Matter 2012:
Tickets are £250 for the full two-day conference, documentation and materials design exhibition (2-3 April), plus an opening drinks reception at the Institute of Materials on 1 April, and optional visits to the Science Museum and Kew Gardens’ 19th century materials library on 4 April.

Register now at:

Hosted by the RCA‘s Materials for Living Hub and the Materials and Design Exchange of the Materials KTN.

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In a brave, new and uncertain world the invisible and intangible ‘matter’ of inspiration that fuels artists, designers, scientists and technologists is one of the most precious materials of all.

Design, art, the applied sciences and the humanities and social sciences are critical contributors to the future of our material world, but most effective when we communicate with each other. Inspiring Matters suggests that unexpected innovation can arise through boundary-crossing, and that flashes of inspiration that guide our work unite all of these areas. By foregrounding common questions and modes of communication between areas, the conference seeks to foster collaboration between lab discovery, product innovation, human experience and social welfare.

Innovative new materials and process technologies both allow and challenge designers to create a new paradigm of design practice that is, by necessity, inter-disciplinary and collaborative.

As products develop into complex integrated systems with logic, memory and connectivity the expertise and skill base needed to realise this vision extends far beyond the design community into the material science and technology communities.

Similarly, as the lab becomes increasingly important in the development of new products, designers’ ways of working with  materials to form products is becoming critical, as the characteristics of the new materials offer far greater impact into sensory and emotive human values.

And insights from the fine arts, social sciences and humanities into human behaviour, desire and the nature of innovation bring crucial insights into our interaction with technologies, materials and things, and can guide potential impact in the area of social inclusion and societal benefit.

Inspiring Matter asks leading and emerging figures in each of these areas to consider their own sources and methods of inspiration. How does inspiration strike? What inspiration do we draw from collaboration, and from materials themselves?


Let’s keep in touch!

Thank you to everybody who took part in what was a really inspiring and uniquely interdisciplinary event two weeks ago. We are very much encouraged by the feedback to maintain this brilliant network of people.

You can now keep in touch and stay informed about our future plans and events by following us on Twitter: @inspiringmatter

(Picture: Sir Richard Friend with Anna Valtonen. Click here for more images.)

Kew Visit – seats available!

There are still seats available an the Routemaster bus to Kew, for a tour of the ECONOMIC BOTANY COLLECTION with curator Mark Nesbitt. A rare chance to see this nineteenth-century materials library, established in 1847 and still in use today. To take part log-in HERE and edit your preferences .

Change of programme

Sadly, Richard Wentworth will not be coming to IM, but we look really forward to meeting Sophie Collier and Claire Poulter, RCA artists who made a video with Richard called ‘Dodgy Signal’ and which they describe as ‘a volatile and emotive five minutes, inspired by the mutual mutability of the everyday.’ They will present their video on Tuesday 16:00 and Thomas Thwaites will be talking at 12:10 and joinig the panel afterwards.

Conference Chairs

Jeremy Myerson, Director of the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, Nico Macdonald, writer, consultant and co-author of BIG POTATOES and Alison Prendiville, Deputy Director of the of Centre for Competitive Creative Design  have kindly offered to  join our own Professor Clare Johnston and Dr. Sarah Teasley to chair the conference sessions.

Meet the Team

With only a few days left, it’s long overdue that we revealed ourselves..

We are (always left to right).. Professor Clare Johnston (Head of Textiles and Materials for Living Hub, RCA) - Manolis Kelaidis (Research Coordinator, Materials for Living Hub, RCA) - Dr Claire Pajaczkowska (Research Leader of School of Material, RCA) - Dr Sarah Teasley (Tutor in History of Design and Critical and Historical Studies, RCA) - John Bound (Head of FuelRCA) - Anne Toomey (Reader in Materials Research for Design, Northumbria University).

Come and talk to us when you see us!


We are pleased to announce discounts for RCA staff (£150) and students (£50). Limited availability – email to reserve a place now!


Don’t miss our exhibition at the RCA galleries featuring work from a selection of students and recent graduates from all RCA Schools. Very interested to see start-ups like Concrete Canvas (pic) and Sugru next to students from Sculpture, Animation and Textiles. Book now!

Sunday Reception AT IOM3 with Geoff Hollington

We are very pleased that Geoff Hollington will be presenting and signing 50 free copies of his “Rightweight” book for Inspiring Matter delegates. Geoff is a designer, advisor and researcher and his new book brings together the findings of the Rightweight project, developed by MaDE and the RCA, and features contributions from designers, lecturers and writers to help designers create products that are the perfect weight. The event will take place on Sunday 1st April (4pm-6pm) at the evening reception hosted by the Materials KTN at IOM3 (click for map).

Promotion Spaces Available

We are now offering the opportunity to companies or individuals to promote their technologies and products in the RCA galleries where Inspiring Matter takes place. For more details:

Talk: Alex de Rijke

An already brilliant line-up of speakers will now include architect Alex de Rijke, newly appointed Dean of the School of Architecture at the RCA. Alex is a founding Director of the architectural practice dRMM, whose work is well known for innovative construction technologies and materials, especially for pioneering cross-laminated timber panel construction.

Talk: Chris Lefteri

Chris Lefteri, an internationally recognized authority on materials and their application in design, will offer his invaluable insight at the conference. His achievements in this area have created a bridge between manufacturers, the chemical industry and the design industry. He is the editor of Ingredients magazine and has published eight books on design and material innovation, which can be found in most design studios around the world.

Talk: Chris Wise

We are very pleased that Chris Wise, one of a new generation of engineering designers of the built environment, has just joined Inspiring Matter. Chris began his career with Ove Arup and Partners, where he became Arup’s youngest Director in 1992, before he co-founded Expedition Engineering, working on projects such as the Velopark for London’s 2012 Olympics.

Visit: Science Museum

We are pleased to announce an optional visit for our guests on the day after the conference: Take a pedestrian pilgrimage through Albertopolis to the SCIENCE MUSEUM, where  senior exhibitions manager Susan Mossman, will lead a tour of the Materials Gallery and HIDDEN HEROES exhibition to discuss newest developments in the public dissemination of science through exhibition design. Register your interest HERE.

Just added: Hotel Finder

For all those coming from outside London, we just added an interactive map to check availability and book nearby hotels. Click on LOCATIONS for further info.

Plenary: Sir Richard Friend

The conference will open with a plenary talk by Sir Richard Friend FRS, Cavendish Professor at the UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE. His work has been applied to development of polymer field effect transistors, light-emitting diodes, photovoltaic diodes, optically pumped lasing and directly printed polymer transistors. He pioneered the study of organic polymers and the electronic properties of molecular semiconductors. In 2010, Friend was elected as one of the three laureates of MILLENNIUM TECHNOLOGY PRIZE for the development of plastic electronics.

Plenary: Anna Valtonen

Our second plenary will be delivered by Anna Valtonen, Rector at UMEÅ INSTITUTE OF DESIGN at Umeå University. Valtonen has worked previously as the Head of Nokia Design Foresight, and as a member of the Board at Aalto University, which is a merger between the Helsinki School of Economics, the University of Art and Design Helsinki and the Helsinki University of Technology. We are looking very much forward to her talk.

Plenary: Susanne Küchler

The second day of the conference will kick-off with a plenary talk by Susanne Küchler, Head of Department of Anthropology and Professor of Material Culture at UCL. Susanne has conducted ethnographic fieldwork in Papua New Guinea and Eastern Polynesia over the past 25 years while her ethnographic research is piloted into centres of research and innovation, and into sites of materials manufacture, design and marketing.

Plenary: Mike Davies

Mike Davies CBE, a Senior Director at Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners (RSHP), formerly Richard Rogers Partnership, will deliver the second plenary talk on the final day. He has been involved with virtually all the key projects undertaken by the practice during more than 30 years, including the Pompidou Centre in Paris, Lloyd’s of London, the Millennium Dome and Greenwich Peninsula masterplan and the redevelopment of the South Bank and Bankside areas of London.

Talk: Mark Miodownik

Mark Miodownik is another fantastic addition to our line-up of speakers. Mark is an engineer and materials scientist as well as a broadcaster and writer on science and engineering issues. He is the head of the Materials Research Group at King’s College London, and the co-founder of Materials Library, a website for people working in materials science.

In Discussion w M J Gorman

We are delighted to announce, Dr Michael John Gorman, who will hold the “In Discussion session with Dunne & Raby” at the conference. Michael is Founding Director of the Science Gallery in Dublin and has extensive international experience in public engagement with science and technology, having created and developed public exhibitions and events in the United States, Europe and Ireland.

Talk:Hugh Aldersey-Williams

Author and journalist Hugh Aldersey-Williams is to offer the end-of-day “reflection” sessions at the conference. Hugh, who studied the natural sciences at the University of Cambridge, discusses in his several books issues surrounding natural and man-made designs and is perhaps best known for his 2011 book Periodic Tales, which The Daily Telegraph described as “a paean to the building blocks of matter”. He has curated exhibitions at the Victoria and Albert Museum as well as the Wellcome Collection.

Talk: Martin Kemp

Dr Martin Kemp, Theme Manager at the NanoKTN, will join us in April to discuss the potential benefits of nanotechnology. Following a career in materials science research at DERA, Martin Kemp moved into corporate marketing, before spending five years with DTI Global Watch Service developing international technology transfer. As a Chartered Marketer, he has 14 years experience in technology transfer including commercial exploitation of IP.

Talk: Richard Wentworth

Acclaimed artist and Head of RCA’s Sculpture Department, Professor Richard Wentworth has also confirmed joining us. Previously Master of the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, Oxford University, Professor Wentworth emerged as a major british sculptor in the early 1980s. His work centres on the idea of transformation, of subtly altering and juxtaposing everyday objects which, in turn, fundamentally changes the way we perceive the world around us.

Talk: Daisy Ginsberg

The line-up is almost complete and looking brilliant with the addition of Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, a designer, artist and researcher who’s interested in the future. She uses design to explore the implications of emerging and unfamiliar technologies, science and services. Currently she is working on the Synthetic Aesthetics project applying engineering principles to living systems, thereby turning biology into a material for design.

Talk: Sarah Teasley

Sarah Teasley, Tutor in History of Design and Critical and Historical Studies at the Royal College of Art, is going to give a talk on the lessons we can learn from past instances where science, design and art met to explore properties and uses of new materials.  Her research employs case studies from design and architecture practice and theory in modern Japan to explore broader questions about design, technology and society.

Talk: Thomas Thwaites

Thomas Thwaites with his own inspiring perspective on materials is joining Inspiring Matter. Thomas describes himself as a designer of a more speculative sort and his thoughtful projects look deeply at the science behind technology, as in the Toaster Project, which sent spiralling him into the history and techniques of metallurgy and plastics production.

Talk: Fiorenzo Omenetto

We are extremely pleased to announce Professor Fiorenzo Omenetto as one of our speakers. Fiorenzo is a Professor of Biomedical Engineering and leads the Ultrafast Nonlinear Optics and Biophotonics Laboratory at Tufts University. He has proposed and pioneered the use of silk as a material platform for photonics, optoelectronics and high-technology applications. His research is focused on interdisciplinary themes that span nonlinear optics, nanostructured materials (such as photonic crystals and photonic crystal fibers), optofluidics and biopolymer based photonics.

Talk: Bradley Quinn

Bradley Quinn, an author, journalist, and independent scholar with expertise in fashion, textile, and design, has also just confirmed. His books include Techno Fashion, The Fashion of Architecture, Chinese Style, Scandinavian Style, Mid-Century Modern and Design Futures, or how a new generation of products, materials and surfaces will align design with such areas as artificial intelligence, genetic engineering and nanotechnology.

Talk: Manuel Kretzer

Manuel Kretzer will bring his adaptive structures to Inspiring Matter. Manuel is an architect at Responsive Design Studio in Zurich and a Scientific Assistant at the Chair for CAAD at the ETH in Zürich. His research focuses on digital design and fabrication methods with a special interest in new technologies and materials and their application in temporary, interactive art and architecture.

Talk: Anne Toomey

Deputy Head of the RCA’s Textiles Department, Anne Toomey, will joint Sophie Duport and Katie Gaudion for a talk on their joint project. Anne is a printed textiles specialist with over 20 years’ UK and international experience in design, product development, manufacture and education. As of January 2012, Anne will be Reader in Active and Interactive Materials in Design at Northumria University and part of a team that aims to create a human centred design research centre that will focus on design-led innovation with active and interactive materials for intelligent surfaces and products.

Talk: Katie Gaudion

Katie Gaudion will join Sophie Duport and Anne Toomey for a joint talk on their work on the development of therapeutic and interactive textiles structures. Katie is a textile designer and currently works as a research associate at the RCA’s Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design.

Talk: Sophie Duport

Sophie Duport has just confirmed her talk with Anne Toomey and Katie Gaudion. Sophie is a Neuroscientist and Head of Research at the Royal Hospital for Neuro Disability. She has been awarded a Crucible Fellowship by NESTA (the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) in 2006.

Talk: Suzanne Lee

We are very happy to announce Suzanne Lee as one of our speakers. Suzanne is a designer working at the forefront of biological materials with a vision to grow future eco products from living organisms. Her BioCouture Research Project is focused on harnessing bacteria to produce direct-formed cellulose. Her original inspiration to ‘grow clothing’ has extended to explore diverse applications for these compostable materials.

Talk: Christine Guth

The RCA’s Christine Guth is also joining us for a talk. Christine is a historian of Japanese art and design whose research interests include Japanese material culture of the early modern era, nineteenth- and twentieth-century graphic design, and the history of transnational collecting and display practices. She joined the Royal College Art in 2007 to lead the new specialism in Asian design history and material culture.

Talk: Peter Yeadon

We are very happy that Peter Yeadon has confirmed. Peter is Associate Professor at the Rhode Island School of Design and partner architect at Decker Yeadon. At RISD, he teaches courses that exploit advanced technologies to spur design innovation. He is known for his pursuit of new applications for novel materials, particularly smart materials and nanotechnology and has lectured and written on the topic of emergent materials extensively.

In Discussion w Dunne & Raby

We just confirmed Tony Dunne and Fiona Raby for a session. Tony is professor and head of the Design Interactions department at the RCA and together with Fiona they form Dunne & Raby, a practice that uses design as a medium to stimulate discussion and debate amongst designers, industry and the public about the social, cultural and ethical implications of existing and emerging technologies.

Talk: Prof Raymond Oliver

We are pleased to announce Raymond Oliver, Professor of Interactive Materials at Northumbria University, as a speaker. His research focuses on human centred needs enhanced and enabled through Design:STEM integration activities and his expertise encompasses ‘active’ and interactive polymers, organic electronics & optoelectronics for applications in printable light, power, logic & memory and social innovation through healthcare, wellness, personal safety, security, assisted living and the development of smarter built environments.


The Royal College of Art together with the UK’s Materials KTN and the Materials and Design Exchange are pleased to announce the inaugural Inspiring Matter Conference to take place on April 2nd & 3rd 2012 at the Royal College of Art in London.

The conference aims to encourage the convergence of design, material science and social needs and will feature talks from esteemed speakers, panel discussions, materials demonstrations and an exhibition at the RCA’s galleries.