Emily Candela

PhD Work

Mid-Century Molecular: The Material Culture of X-ray Crystallographic Visualisation across Postwar British Science and Industrial Design

This interdisciplinary project explores the shifting use and significance of visualisations of molecular structures emanating from the science of X-ray crystallography in postwar British material culture. Focusing on molecular representations in both scientific practice and objects of industrial design, this research bridges two fields: design history and the history of science. In doing so, it proposes new experimental approaches to researching cross-field exchange and to studying objects that challenge or move between the conventional borders of historical disciplines. 

The thesis focuses on artefacts from three key areas in which ‘science’ and ‘design’ – as fields, cultures of practice, and historical subjects - interact in different ways. It comprises four episodes reflecting on these relationships through the investigation of molecular form in material culture: the first interrogates X-ray crystallographers’ practices of visualising molecular structures; the second advances a new history of the Festival Pattern Group scheme for the 1951 Festival of Britain, in which crystallographic visualisations formed the aesthetic basis of patterns for domestic objects; the third centres on the postwar production and consumption of furnishings with a ‘ball-and-rod’ form and construction reminiscent of those of molecular models; and the final episode forms a biography of the lives of ball-and-rod furnishings in retro culture today.

This research revises existing narratives of the cultural transmissions between the science of X-ray crystallography and the production and reception of designed objects in postwar Britain. I argue that these transmissions were more complex than has been previously acknowledged: they were contingent upon postwar scientific and design practices, varying modernist ideologies, and the dynamics of historical memory, both scholarly and popular. This project reveals the effects of submitting historical subjects situated on discipline boundaries to interdisciplinary interpretation. Old models, such as that of unidirectional ‘influence’, subside and the resulting picture is a refracted one.


  • PhD


    School of Fine Art


    History of Design, 2011–2016

  • I am a historian of design and science, broadcaster, and curator. My research focuses on relationships between design and science in the postwar period and today, historical memory and retro culture, and sonic angles on the study of designed artefacts. My interdisciplinary PhD research was undertaken across the V&A/Royal College of Art History of Design programme and the Science Museum through an Arts and Humanities Research Council Collaborative Doctoral Award. This project explored the uses and translations of forms of molecular visualisations emanating from the science of X-ray crystallography in postwar British material culture. My research also includes experimentation with new methods of researching and communicating history using sound, building on my creation of the six-part radio series and podcast Atomic Radio, which explored intersections of design, art and the science of X-ray crystallography (

  • Degrees

  • MRes Humanities and Cultural Studies (Distinction), The London Consortium, 2011; MA Fine Art (Distinction), Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, University of the Arts London, 2006; BA Eastern European History and Certificate in Music Studies (Summa cum laude), University of Maryland, USA. 2004
  • Experience

  • Curator of Twentieth-Century and Contemporary Furniture and Twentieth-Century Product Design, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, current (6 month fixed term); Visiting lecturer, Critical & Historical Studies, RCA, London, 2013 – current
  • Conferences

  • ‘Making ‘Atomic’ History: Collapsing Past and Present in the ‘Unofficial’ Digital Archive’, Design and Time: Design History Society Conference, London, September 2016; ‘‘Kitsch Science’: Remembering the Atomic Age on eBay’, Things to Remember: Materializing Memories in Art and Culture, Radboud University, The Netherlands, June 2014; ‘Building Viruses: A Material Dialogue between Crystallography and Architecture’, 40th Association of Art Historians Conference, RCA, London, April 2014; ‘Locked in Translation: The Festival Pattern Group’s Atomic Inscriptions’, Science, Imagination, and the Illustration of Knowledge, 4th International Illustration Symposium, Pitt Rivers Museum/Oxford Museum of Natural History, November 2013; ‘Democratizing Designs?: The Festival Pattern Group's Crystallographic Surface Designs’, Textiles & Politics: Textile Society of America’s Biennial Symposium, Washington, DC, USA, September 2012; ‘No Signal: Failures of Transmission in the Moving Image from Analog ‘Snow’ to the ‘Blue Screen of Death’’, LUX/ICA Biennial of Moving Images Conference, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, May 2012; 'The Animated Atomic: Moving Models between the Laboratory and Television in Post-war Britain', The Two Cultures: Visual Art and Science c.1800-2011, York University, April 2012
  • Publications

  • Review of Designing the Creative Child: Playthings and Places in Midcentury America by Amy F. Ogata, Home Cultures, 12:1, 2015, 115-118; Francesca Cavallo, Maya Oppenheimer and Emily Candela, ‘Risk Assessment: A Para-Artistic Work’, Critical Contemporary Culture, 3, 2013; ‘Assembling an Aesthetic’, Current Opinion in Chemical Biology, ‘Aesthetics’ special issue edited by Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, 16:5-6, December 2012, 564-568; Olivia Sagan, Emily Candela and Bess Frimodig, ‘Insight on Outreach: Toward a Critical Practice’, Journal of Education Through Art, 6:2, 2010, 145–161