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29 October 2014

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You are in: South Yorkshire > Entertainment > Culture > Features > Wonderland: Tony Ryan

Scientist Tony Ryan

Wonderland: Tony Ryan

Sheffield scientist Tony Ryan has brought a whole new concept to clothing. You won't want to wear his new range in the rain though - because they dissolve in water! The exhibition 'Wonderland' was in Sheffield throughout July 2008.

One day you’re marking exam papers and the next you’re displaying clothes that dissolve  in Sheffield. BBC Radio Sheffield’s Toby Foster chatted to Tony Ryan, Head of the Faculty of Sciences and Maths at the University of Sheffield. To you and me, that means he looks after Maths, Science, Physics, Biology, Chemistry and Physiology!

Make a cup of tea, look at your computer and go home - that's what many people do every day in their jobs. But Tony Ryan the scientist isn’t like most people...

“Yesterday I was sitting in my office making the soundtrack for a movie about dissolving dresses. There’s a model with jeans and a t-shirt on filmed by Nick Knight and we’re going to be in Vogue.

Dissolving dress

Dissolving dress

“Imagine if somebody had told me 30 years ago when when I was doing my Chemistry O-Level that I would be paid for dissolving the clothes off women!”

A strange and different concept you may think - but where does somebody get an idea like that from?

“I was on a BBC Radio 4 programme called ‘Material World’ and Helen Story who is a dress designer heard me. Helen is as an artist works to the theme of ‘art with a purpose.’

“Basically she heard me and said she had an idea. It was ridiculous to a scientist and inspirational at the same time, it was to make packaging that knows when it’s empty and then disappears."

Tony explains that an idea like that can’t be done but there are things you can do that are similar. Never somebody to hit a brick wall and stop, Tony worked around the idea.

“We made a grant proposal to the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to do this exhibition about disappearing dresses as a metaphor for waste.”

How does it actually disappear?

“The dress is made from a plastic that is soluble in water. The dresses (exhibited in Meadowhall shopping centre) were lowered into bowls of water where they just dissolve.

“They’re proper dresses, you could wear them but they aren’t very comfy. A bit of rain or sweat and then you’re naked!"

From bottles to flowers

The Botanical Gardens in Sheffield held a sister exhibition to the one at Meadowhall, but in this case the focus of the display was plastic bottles which turned into flowers.

"If you have a bottle made out of a material that likes water, and it contains something that really likes water, then the stuff inside the bottle will just hold all the water inside.

Bottles into flowers

Bottles into flowers

“When it’s empty you can fill the bottle with water... then there is nothing competing with it for the water and it will just dissolve.

“It’s as if we made a bottle out of jelly, you dissolve it so it becomes a gel and we do that with the bottle. The top of the bottle becomes a salt and pepper pot sprinkled with seeds and routing compound and it turns into flowers!”

The future of… washing up liquid!?

“I want to see the supermarkets sell basil-fragrenced washing up liquid which then turs into a bowl of basil. We can do it technically, it’s just working our way through the marketing and getting through that chain.

“It’s not a solution to the problem because you don’t want to wash all your packing down the drain because that will just cause more problems. The aim is to get people to think! We just don’t want to come across as if we’re preaching.

Flips without the flop

"Working with Helen has been fantastic. Because she's a fashion designer, you don’t get the normal questions that you get asked when working in a lab with scientists. One day she said, “wouldn’t it be great if we never had to wear shoes ever again!?”

Dissolving clothes

Have you ever laid in bed at night with an idea rushing around in your head? That's what it must be like to be Tony - perhaps he never sleeps. One small comment from somebody sparks more and more ideas…

“I told my workmate about the idea and he actually had a go. He made some soles that don’t have uppers but have patches of adhesive on the ball of the foot and the big toe to keep them on your feet. Flip without the flop!

“We’re thinking we might call them ‘Free Feet’. You can just rent them for the summer, take them back, we’ll recycle them and then we’ll give them to the third world.”

When asked whether he thinks it’ll actually happen, Tony was adamant that it’ll be done. “When it happens, I’ll bring some in!”

last updated: 15/07/2008 at 10:19
created: 20/06/2008

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