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From Atoms to Patterns

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  • Exhibition
Photograph of the exhibition From Atoms to Patterns at Wellcome Collection.
From Atoms to Patterns exhibition, Richard Hall. Source: Wellcome Collection. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0).

This exhibition explored the intriguing creations of the Festival Pattern Group – a unique project at the 1951 Festival of Britain involving X-ray crystallographers, designers and manufacturers.

At the instigation of Dr Helen Megaw, a leading Cambridge scientist, diagrams of atomic structures inspired an eclectic array of patterns on curtains, wallpapers, carpets, lace, dress fabrics, ties, plates and ashtrays. By studying X-ray diffraction photographs of crystals, scientists could calculate the arrangement of atoms within molecules – the resulting diagrams inspired the Festival Pattern Group. These avant-garde designs testified to the optimism of the early post-war era and the vibrancy of 1950s design.