Naum Gabo, a Russian-born sculptor, experimented with plastic in the 1920s; by the 1960s his sculptures were rotting. Gabo angrily blamed museum curators for not looking after his works adequately. But it turns out that the plastic – cellulose acetate – itself was unstable. Now museums around the world are seeing their collections crumble before their eyes – antique plastic dolls at the National Museum of Denmark are peeling and flake; furniture at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London looks weather-beaten; the first-ever plastic toothbrush, at the Smithsonian, is turning into a pile of crumbs – and no-one knows how to stop the rot.
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What other scientific advances and inventions have gone beyond their “Use by” date..?