‘Institute of Making’

The ‘Institute of Making’ at the UCL is a place for people who are enamoured by unusual curios and substances with an enticingly wide-range of uses.

Elizabeth Corbin showed us many different materials. A beautifully delicate sample of silica aerogel was handed around in a small container – one of my classmates opened it up, handling the item. She is a very tactile person. The glass foam, which contains up to 99.8% air (the world’s lightest solid) fractured in her slight grasp. It was a rare sample, and she was visibly embarrassed. The material appears to be more transparent than glass and there are no hints of reflections on it, giving the appearance of not being fully solid. It is blue for the same reasons that the sky is blue.

There are over 2,500 different materials to look at in the institute.

Optical fibers – what we line our oceans with in order to watch ‘I’m a Celebrity’

Memory wire – formed back into shape when placed in warm water

Heat valve stent – made from nitinol

Zebra fish – it is self-healing and has similar DNA to humans.


Bacteria concrete – calcite – a self-healing material. It is being used in place of concrete – when fractures form in it, the bacteria eats the calcite, then excretes an ‘adhesive.’

  • Did the demonstration seem like too much of a ‘show and tell?’ Let’s get out the silly putty etc. It should’ve been more about allowing students to come and create.

Interestingly, they don’t believe so much in preserving the objects. They were interested in the degrading process.

Items are ordered by the date they were acquisitioned into the collection – the Periodic Table of Elements is number one.