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Digital Materialities - Virtual and Analogue Forms of Exhibition


Digital Materialities - Virtual and Analogue Forms of Exhibition

The joint project "Digital Materialities. Virtual and Analogue Forms of Exhibition", DigiMat for short, is looking for new exhibition and mediation formats for digital exhibits. The German Maritime Museum / Leibniz Institute of Maritime History, the MAPEX Center for Materials and Processes at the University of Bremen and the Leibniz Institute for Knowledge Media (IWM) in Tübingen are involved. A traveling exhibition will show the results starting in 2024.  

The materials sciences are very close to things - one would think. But that's not necessarily true: In fact, materials researchers today often don't work on the material samples themselves as much as they deal with digital image data output by high-precision measuring instruments. Prof. Lucio Colombi Ciacchi, a materials scientist at the University of Bremen and former spokesman for the MAPEX Center for Materials and Processes, explains: "Materials characterization is about using physical methods to extend the perceptual capabilities of our senses in order to gain new insights. Digital reconstruction of the material under investigation on the computer plays an extremely important role in this, because only in this way does the technically recorded data become truly tangible for humans." This gives an object, be it a material sample in the laboratory or a museum exhibit, a whole range of new "digital materialities" that can enrich the observation process, but also deliberately limit it in certain directions.

"This must make museums sit up and take notice," adds Prof. Ruth Schilling, scientific director of the exhibition and research area at the DSM: "What does it actually mean for the research of objects if I rely predominantly on digital copies here?" So if museums exhibit materiality, and science's view of materials has long since become a virtual one, then virtual exhibition formats may also be needed to do justice to the role of materials in museums, Schilling said. "This in no way means that material objects lose their historical value as a result. Rather, what is important is a cleverly conceived interplay of real objects and the digital applications that go with them. This can provide in-depth insights and accommodate changing media usage."

Developing and implementing such formats and exploring their audience impact is the subject of the research project "Digital Materialities. Virtual and Analogue Forms of Exhibition" in short: DigiMat, for the implementation of which the DSM, MAPEX at the University of Bremen and the Tübingen Leibniz Institute for Knowledge Media will receive funding from the Senate Committee Competition of the Leibniz Association from 2021.
As part of the project, selected objects of both material and historical interest from the museum's collection will be recorded using state-of-the-art measuring technology such as CT scanners and spectrographs and thus made visible and tangible in a completely new way. To date, MAPEX has used computed tomography to take a picture of a submarine model from the DSM collection.

The resulting digitized images open up entirely new ways of understanding and talking about objects - but also require entirely new mediation strategies, some of which have yet to be developed. "In order to fully exploit the potential of authentic objects in combination with their digital twins for knowledge transfer, for example, there must not just be a juxtaposition of the two elements, but rather mediation strategies must be developed that make it clear how the two elements relate to each other so that they can explain each other," notes Prof. Dr. Stephan Schwan, head of the "Realistic Representations" working group at the Leibniz Institute for Knowledge Media in Tübingen.

The result of the three-year collaborative project will be a traveling exhibition with mixed analog and digital formats, which is expected to be on display starting in 2024.
The Leibniz Institute for Knowledge Media (IWM)
The Leibniz Institute for Knowledge Media (IWM) in Tübingen researches how digital media influence knowledge and communication processes and how new technologies can be used to improve these processes. The basic and applied research focuses not only on institutional fields of learning such as schools and universities, but also on informal learning on the Internet, at the workplace or in museums. Scientists from various disciplines work together at the IWM, especially from psychology, communication science, neuroscience and computer science. Founded in 2001, the non-university research institute is a member of the Leibniz Association.

The MAPEX Center for Materials and Processes at the University of Bremen
MAPEX is a cross-departmental and cross-institutional competence network in the field of materials science and materials engineering. The scientific goal of MAPEX is the research and development of materials and processes for applications in sustainable mobility and energy, including human exploration of space. Through their research in all disciplines of science, engineering, mathematics and computer science, MAPEX members strive for a deeper understanding of the relationships between processes, properties and performance of materials and materials. The approximately 1000 scientific and technical collaborators active in the MAPEX network develop materials engineering solutions to improve the lives of everyone.


Photo: XRM (X-Ray-Microscope), „3D-Röntgenmikroskop“. Copyright: Ulrich Reiß, Leibniz IWT.


Conference: Knowledge through Digitized Material? - Objects, Images, Perspectives

Together with the Center for Materials and Processes (MAPEX) and the Institute for Knowledge Media (IWM), the German Maritime Museum/ Leibniz Institute of Maritime History (DSM) is organizing the conference "Knowledge through Digitized Materials? - Objects, Images, Perspectives." on 15th and 16th of June.

To the program



Project management

Prof. Dr. Ruth Schilling 

0471  48 207 833

Prof. Dr. Sebastian Vehlken

+49 471  48207 65

Scientific coordinator

Dr. Frederic Theis

+49 471 482 07 817

Scientific Coordinator

Karolin Leitermann

0471 482 07 108


on parental leave





  • Prof. Dr. Stephan Schwan | Project management IWM
  • Dr. Bärbel Garsoffky | Research assistant
  • Dr. Manuela Glaser | Contact IWM







Photo of a ceramic shard sent for scanning. Photo: DSM / Francesco Basta

Model rendering of an X-ray scan of the clay sherd. Photo: Pia Götz / MAPEX

Tooth of sperm whale. Photo: DSM / Francesco Basta

Surface visualization of an X-ray scan of the Pottwahl tooth. Pia Götz / MAPEX and Luca Junge / DSM



In cooperation with



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