Research Papers
(2008 - ongoing)

The Use of Standard Electrode Potentials to Predict the Taste of Solid Metals.

Laughlin, Z. Conreen, M. Witchel, H. J. and Miodownik, M. 2011. The use of standard electrode potentials to predict the taste of solid metals. Food, Quality and Preference 22(7), 628-637.

Abstract: Not all metals taste equally metallic when placed in the mouth. While much work has been done to examine the metallic taste sensations arising from metal ions in solutions, there is comparatively less known about the taste of solid metals. In this study seven metals in the form of spoons were used to com- pare the perception of taste arising from solid utensils placed inside the mouth. Thirty-two participants tasted seven spoons of identical dimensions plated with each of the following metals: gold, silver, zinc, copper, tin, chrome and stainless steel. More negative standard electrode potentials were found to be good predictors of solid metals that had tastes scoring highest for the taste descriptors strong, bitter and metallic. Thus, it was found that both gold and chrome (having the most positive standard electrode potentials) were considered the least metallic, least bitter and least strong tasting of the spoons. Zinc and copper (having the most negative standard electrode potentials) were the strongest, most metallic, most bitter, and least sweet tasting of the spoons. We conclude that gold and chrome have tastes that are less strong than metals with lower standard electrode potentials. 

More information on the work can be found here.


Tasting Spoons: Assessing How the Material of a Spoon Affects the Taste of the Food.

Betina Piqueras-Fiszman, Z. Laughlin, M. Miodownik, C. Spence. 2011. Tasting Spoons: Assessing How the Material of a Spoon Affects the Taste of the FoodFood, Quality and Preference 22(7), 628-637.

Abstract: This study investigated the effect that the taste of certain metals has on the perception of food. Four spoons plated with different metals (gold, copper, zinc, and stainless steel) were used to taste cream sam- ples having different tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and plain. The results revealed that the zinc and copper spoons, in addition to transferring a somewhat metallic and bitter taste, enhanced to a greater or lesser extent, each cream’s dominant taste. Contrary to our expectations, the metallic taste of the cop- per and zinc spoons did not seem to affect the pleasantness of the samples significantly. These findings reveal that the effect that the metals from which cutlery can be made have on food perception differs from that found when the metal salts are added to the composition of the food itself. 

More information on this work can be found here.

Glass.  Zoe Laughlin, 2013..

Zoe Laughlin, 2013..

Investigating the Acoustic Properties of Materials with Tuning Forks.

Laughlin, Z. Naumann, F. and Miodownik, M. Investigating the Acoustic Properties of Materials with Tuning Forks. Materials & Sensations Conference 2008, Pau (France), Oct. 22–24.

Abstract: Sounds and their cultural resonances are built upon material relationships that produce specific acoustic effects and connotations. The aesthetic qualities and scientific properties of sounds and our perception of them, is key to our understanding of the world around us, and the relationships we build with materials.

To test the comparative acoustic properties of different ma- terials we made a set of tuning forks of identical shape from varying materials. The three principle factors that influence the production of sound by a tuning fork are the shape, the density and the elastic modulus of the material from which the fork is made. The qualities of the sound produced by a tuning fork are experienced as a note of a specific pitch (frequency), with a partic- ular brightness (a combinatory factor of duration and amplitude). Ashby and Johnson plotted the theoretical relationship between the acoustic pitch and the acoustic brightness of a wide range of materials in their multidimensional scaling (MDS) map of acoustic properties [1]. We used the tuning forks to investigate the effects of materiality on sound, with exact frequency produced by each fork measured and the shift in pitch attributed to the change in materials. The tuning forks were also played and assessed by musicians whose perceptions of pitch and brightness were judged against those of the MDS.

In terms of the frequencies produced by the tuning forks, we found broad agreement with the theoretical predictions, apart from a few anomalies. We also found that judgements of pitch made by musicians were also in agreement with the frequency measurements. The greatest surprise was that the pitch of disparate materials could be very similar, whilst the brightness of the note varies dramatically, due to variations in materials coefficient of loss. 

More information on the work can be found here.


Building a Materials Library using an Isomorphic Methodology.

Laughlin, Z. Conreen, M. and Miodownik, M.A. Building a Materials Library using an Isomorphic Methodology. Materials & Sensations Conference 2008, Pau (France), Oct. 22–24.

Abstract: The last ten years has seen a steady rise in the number of self-declared materials libraries in the commercial, professional and educational sectors. Each resource serves the needs of particular materials communities and presents materials in a range of appropriate forms. We are engaged in the ongoing devising and creation of a materials library that foregrounds haptic modes of materials enquiry and acts as a sensual in- tersection between the arts and the sciences. Our hypothesis is that technical details can enhance aesthetic experience and that in generating physical encounters with matter, one provides an often forgotten way into this technical knowledge. From silicon aerogel and aluminium nitride to uranium glass and parachute silk underwear, materials have been gathered together not only for scientific interest, but for their ability to fire the imagination and advance conceptualisation. We are interested in combining the art, science and culture of materials in order to create a place where the multidimensional world of matter can be explored by experts and non-experts alike. We have explored the isomorphic principle of materials investigation that enables the production and display of multiple material samples that keep the form constant whilst varying the materials. These objects enabled us to explored issues of taxonomy, appraising the classical categories of matter through the dynamic ordering of materials within the library and the encountering of the materials by visitors. 

Publications Overview


Z. Laughlin and P. Howes. The Sound and Taste of Materials. Contributing chapter in E. Karana, O. Pedgley, and V. Rognoli (eds.). Materials Experience: Fundamentals of Materials and Design. Butterworth-Heinemann. pp 39-49, Oxford, 2014.
ISBN: 978-0-08-09359-1.


Z. Laughlin. Jenseits des Musters: Forschung in der Materials Library. In S. Peters (eds) Das Forschen Aller: Artistic Reserach als Wissensproduction zwischen Kunst, Wissenschaft und Gesellschaft. (The Research of All: Artistic Research as Knowledge-Production between Art, Science and Society). pp 121-140, Transcript Verlag, Germany, 2013. ISNB: 978-3-8376-2172-3.


Z. Laughlin and P. Howes, Material Matters: New Materials in Design. Black Dog Publishing, London UK, 2012. I S B N : 9 7 8 - 1 9 0 7 3 17 7 3 6 .

B. Piqueras-Fiszman, Z. Laughlin, M. Miodownik and C, Spence Tasting spoons: Assessing how the material of a spoon a ects the taste of the food, Food, Quality and Preference, Volume 24, Issue 1, April 2012, pp. 24–29.


Z. Laughlin. Beyond the Swatch: How can the Science of Materials be Represented by the Materials Themselves in a Materials Library? PhD Thesis, Division of Engineering, King’s College London, 2010.


Z. Laughlin. Parkour, Materials and the City, contributing chapter, Actions: What You Can Do With the City, co-published by the Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal, and SUN, Amsterdam. ISBN: 978-0-920785-82-9.

Z. Laughlin. The Performativity of Matter, contributing chapter, Theatre Materials: What Is Theatre Made of? Published by the Centre for Excellence in Training for Theatre, ISBN: 978-0-9539501-5-7.

Z. Laughlin, M. Conreen, H. Witchel and M. Miodownik. The Taste of Materials: Spoons. Proceedings of the MINET Conference: Measurement, Sensation and Cognition 10-12 Nov pp. 127-128. National Physical Laboratory, London, 2009.

Z. Laughlin, F. Naumann, M. Conreen, and M. Miodownik. Investigating the Acoustic Properties of Materials with Tuning Forks. Proceedings of the MINET Conference: Measurement, Sensation and Cognition 10-12 Nov pp. 124-126. National Physical Laboratory, London, 2009.


Z. Laughlin, F. Naumann and M. Miodownik. Investigating the Acoustic Properties of Materials with Tuning Forks. Materials & Sensations Pau (France) Oct. 22–24.