About the RNSACG


Although the primary fabrication processes employed by creative ceramics artists/makers and research scientists/manufacturers of technical and engineering ceramics are very similar, there is minimal contact between the two communities.

A rare exception to this trend was the 1996 Conference ‘Science and Art in Ceramics’ held at the Royal Institution where 80 practicing ceramic artists, physicists, chemists and materials scientists came together. The combination of lectures, posters and artistic exhibits gave each group a taste of activities in the other community. There was considerable enthusiasm for the event, but little opportunity for further detailed interactions at the time.


Prof. Robert Freer, of the University of Manchester, and Alex McErlain of Manchester Metropolitan University have been awarded a grant from the EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) to establish a research network in ceramics and glass over a period of two years. They will endeavor to bring together as many people as possible who are potentially interested in this venture at a conference ‘Atoms to Art’, to be held in September 2005.

The conference will seek to share current practice and identify some themed groups to meet periodically over the course of the following two years. At the end of the two year period a second conference will be staged to share the outcomes and ultimately establish the idea of regular gatherings of the communities.

In recent years the field of research and investigation in creative ceramic and glass practice has seen significant growth. The AHRB (Arts and Humanities Research Board) has played a significant role in nurturing this growth. Individuals working either alone or in association with others in the creative practice field have undertaken much of the research. The exploration of material and process is central to the work of many artists and designers in ceramics and glass; empirical methodologies prevail in this field.

During the past year, contacts between the ceramics group at the Manchester Materials Science Centre led by Robert Freer (University of Manchester/UMIST) and the ceramics group at Three Dimensional Design Department, led by Alex McErlain (Manchester Metropolitan University) have highlighted the wealth of complementary knowledge and expertise in the creative and scientific communities.

We believe the time has come to explore the possibilities for more collaborative research between these communities through the establishment of a research network. The network would in the first instance provide a forum for debate and a platform for establishing common interests, which will lead to collaborative opportunities. The perceived benefits of linking the two communities include:

  • Increased understanding of current and emerging materials
  • Access to facilities to ‘modify/process’ artistic materials
  • Identification of new areas for creative exploration, and through joint investigations, identify opportunities for manufacturing industry
  • Communication with a wider public community through the creative development of exhibition and publication opportunities.


We believe the proposed Network is timely because it provides opportunities for:

  • Collaboration – growing interest in the field of art, design and science
  • Communication – important to both the creative and scientific communities as they try to broaden access and understanding of practice.
  • Dissemination – opportunity to reach a wider audience as publication and exhibition opportunities are growing.


We have identified a framework for the initial operation of the Network, exploring the broad themes of:

  • Material investigations – analysis of current and emerging materials and material combinations. This could include the mixing of differing materials to explore the properties and creative potential of those aggregates. Examples might include: paperclay; clay/glass/metal matrixes and the methodologies and creative potential for working these materials.
  • Heat treatment – for example: fast firing techniques; use of microwave heating; durability during vapour glazing; annealing large scale glass sculpture, temporary kiln structures for large scale creative endeavors.
  • Surface Finish – for example finishing techniques and the impact of new technologies, ie cutting, grinding and polishing, laser marking, waterbased transfer explorations.

We anticipate interest and excitement at the prospect of sharing ideas and as always, when bringing together artists and designers with others from a differing background, we expect the unexpected.

Thus the aim of the network is to bring together scientific and creative practitioners including artists, scientists, designers and craftspeople, drawn from University and independent communities together with industrial partners capable of investigating and utilising current and emerging ceramic materials and processes.

Network management group

Prof Robert Freer, University of Manchester

Alex McErlain, Manchester Metropolitan University

CJ O’Neill, Manchester Metropolitan University

Geoff Dolman, University of Birmingham

To be confirmed, University of Sheffield

David Binns, University of Central Lancashire

Alister Bremner, University of Central Lancashire

Kirsteen Aubrey, Manchester Metropolitan University