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Open seven days a week, 10.00-18.00. Entry to the Museum is free.

Challenge of Materials

*** This gallery is due to close permanently in November 2017 ***

Find out about the properties and uses of materials through objects, hands-on exhibits and computer interactives.

The gallery is divided into four zones:

  • What Are Materials - the hidden world of atoms and molecules.
  • Selecting It - why materials are chosen for particular jobs.
  • Making It - the different processes used transform a raw material into a finished product.
  • Getting Rid of It - what we can do with things like sinks and telephone directories when we stop using them. 

The centrepiece is a spectacular glass bridge supported by almost invisible steel wires just 1.6mm thick... are you brave enough to walk across it?

This gallery is great for exploring materials with all age groups. There are hands-on activities especially designed for younger children while the computer interactives and exhibits on display are suitable for older pupils.

Use it to explore the following ideas:

  • Objects are made from a particular material based on its properties, including its aesthetics and cost. 
  • The same object can be made of different materials and this may change through history e.g. hot water bottles. 
  • Materials may go through a process that transforms it from its raw state.
  • Objects are often made from more than one material, and this can make recycling tricky.

Before the visit

Look at some everyday objects which are made up of glass, plastic or metal. Are any other materials used as part of the object? Why have these materials been chosen? Could this object have been made of any other materials? Why? If you were going to recycle this object, what would happen to each of the materials used and what might they turn in to? Do some research on the Web or in the library to try to find out about the recycling process for various materials.

During the visit

Ask the students to work in pairs to explore one material i.e. glass, plastic or metal. During their time in the gallery they could take photos or produce drawings of one really unusual object they found which was made from their material and one interesting fact they found out, e.g. about its raw state, the manufacturing process it goes through or its recycling process.

After the visit

Students could prepare a short presentation about their chosen material. All the pairs who worked on a particular material, e.g. glass, could work together and present back to the class. They should explain why they chose their unusual object and what they think it would have been used for and why this material was chosen to make it.
Older or more able students

Ask students to explore how scientists have synthesised natural materials that have extraordinary properties e.g. spider silk. While in the gallery they can see if they can find some manufactured products using technologies that have been inspired by nature, known as biomimetics.
When they get back to school they can research more about the objects they found and see how biomimetics has been used in our everyday lives.

Duration: suggested 30-45 mins
Suitable for: age 5 upwards
Places per session: not applicable
Pre booking required: no
Supervisory ratio: 1:15
Cost: free