Main content

Patterns from Atoms

Dr Tilly Blyth explores how textile design and patterns from x-ray crystallography came together to create a new modernity at the 1951 Festival of Britain

The thousands of visitors to the 1951 Festival of Britain were greeted with textile designs on wallpaper and furnishings that had come from atomic scale images created by X ray crystrallography. Images of compounds such as insulin and haemoglobin informed almost every aspect of the festival décor. It was the result of a unique collaboration between textile designers, manufacturers and scientists.

Tilly examines the evolution of the Festival Pattern Group, who would weave a fine line between good design and scientific credibility. As the Group’s molecular patterns on wallpaper and clothing held in the Science Museum Group’s collection reveal, a new window into an invisible molecular world now opened up to the public, a world which previously had only been visible to scientists. Whilst it was all part of the Festival’s post war “tonic to the nation” it rendered the atom benign in an era of cold war anxiety about the excesses of science. It also raised the cultural profile of crystallography.

Producer Adrian Washbourne

Produced in partnership with The Science Museum Group

Photograph courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum

Available now

14 minutes

Last on

Last Friday 13:45

Broadcast

The Art of Innovation

The Art of Innovation

A partnership between Radio 4 and the Science Museum.

The Art of Innovation – the secrets behind the pictures

The Art of Innovation – the secrets behind the pictures

From horses' hooves to instant cameras and supersonic speed – exploring science in art.