Patterns in crystals

The patterns I have chosen for boron and aluminium allow me to introduce you to one of my favourite books. From Atoms to Patterns by Lesley Jackson concerns the Festival Pattern Group, a project instigated by Cambridge crystallographer Dr Helen Megaw for the Festival of Britain in 1951. She brought together British crystallographers and industrial designers with the aim of adapting the patterns produced by x-ray crystallography for use in textiles, wallpaper, linoleum, ceramics and more. The patterns and products created were showcased in the Regatta Restaurant on the South Bank and the Exhibition of Science in South Kensington, and though few reached commercial production their influence on the atomic era of pattern design was far-reaching.

The book tells the story of this great collaborative effort between academia and the design industry and features names such as Hodgkin, Perutz and Bragg, and Wedgwood, Dunlop and ICI. It is also a catalogue of the designs produced, alongside their original crystallographic images. What more could someone with interests in chemistry and structural biology, pattern design and history want from a book!

My designs for boron (left) and aluminium (right) are taken from the crystal patterns of boric acid and aluminium hydroxide, both the work of Helen Megaw. The source diagrams can be seen as figures 10 and 6 respectively in an article by J D Bernal and Helen Megaw on The Function of Hydrogen in Intermolecular Forces in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A. The boric acid pattern was used in a wallpaper design which can be seen in the V&A collection. The aluminium hydroxide pattern was used in a design for a plate, also in the V&A collection.

The photo below shows the book From Atoms to Patterns with my (very) small collection of artefacts related to the Festival Pattern Group – a mug reproduced by the Science Museum featuring a china clay pattern, and a Midwinter plate in the Festival pattern by Jessie Tait – a 1955 range which loosely took its inspiration from the Festival Pattern Group designs.

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