Materials Tour at UMMA Lets You Look at Art Like a Scientist

Materials Tour at UMMA Lets You Look at Art Like a Scientist

Material science and engineering (MSE) and the University of Michigan Museum of Art might have more in common than you think.

The new, self-guided Materials Tour at UMMA is an interactive experience that lets you go through the museum’s latest installations with the eyes and knowledge of an engineer, discovering the science behind the objects. MSE students at the University of Michigan, Brian Iezzi and Paul Chao, were two researchers among the team that created the tour at UMMA, which is like a mini scavenger hunt for visitors.


Iezzi explains, “I love nerding out at kids museums, like the Hands-On Museum in Ann Arbor. I think this is kind of a bridge to that — a taste of science you normally wouldn’t get during a walk through at an art museum.”

While you won’t be able to physically touch the works of art on the Materials Tour, you are able to scan a QR code next to each object, which will give you information about the materials used in creating it, including facts about its chemical compounds and how artists and other people most likely worked with that material in the same time period.


When you understand the science behind the art, you think differently about these artifacts within an art museum,

 Paul Chao

“We have the knowledge to dissect it and understand it now, looking through their artistic process and how they created these beautiful pieces.” Chao says.


The Materials Tour is designed to give visitors a deeper understanding of the objects than their first impressions of the art might do on their own. “This is a beautiful art piece, but we are going to ‘science it,’” Iezzi says. “We will put this thing under a microscope and figure out why this one has a certain color or why this one is more reflective.”

In most art exhibitions, you will see labels detailing the medium of each work of art, but only at UMMA will you see these QR codes explaining the material in depth. “What it is made out of is really an important part of the piece, an inherent part of the art. This is a cool way to explain much more about a work by exploring the medium in more depth,” Iezzi adds.

Walking through this exhibition, you will realize that science and art actually are not so separate after all. Chao reveals, “I hope anyone who interacts with this will be inspired, not only by the intersection of disciplines, but by how intertwined these fields are. That we are all capable, in some way or form, of being a little bit of an artist or a little bit of a scientist/engineer.”

The Materials Tour at UMMA is available as part of Curriculum/Collection 2022, on view at UMMA through Summer 2022. It is intended as an in-person experience — find a QR code on an object at UMMA and scan it to get started.

Materials Tour At UMMA

Discover the science behind artistic objects

Explore This Tour

Grace Farrar Knowlton - 1932 – 2020
Papier-mâché Ball after 1970
papier-mâché on metal frame
18 in x 18 in x 18 in (45.72 cm x 45.72 cm x 45.72 cm)
Gift of the Estate of James van Sweden