Caution: Communicable Diseases May Be Breakable

New virus sculptures explore the public perception of scientific images.

Caution: Communicable Diseases May Be Breakable
Luke Jerram's glass viruses: smallpox, seasonal flu and HIV. [Credit: Luke Jerram]
By | Posted September 24, 2009
Posted in: Health Blog
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Aching muscles, soaring fever, and porcine moniker – the hallmarks of this season’s flu all suggest the H1N1 virus is justifiably ugly.

But British artist Luke Jerram is proving this just isn’t true.

Jerram has composed a series of oversized glass sculptures of some of the world’s most prominent viruses, including HIV, smallpox, SARS, and our current virus du jour, H1N1. The artwork elegantly contrasts the devastating diseases these parasites cause and the symmetrical simplicity in each of the blown glass pieces is a stark reminder that complexity does not always reign supreme in biology.

According to his website, Jerram is circulating photos of his colorless sculptures to various blogs and publications as alternatives to traditional virus images that, by convention, are often colored.  Whereas many biologists and doctors understand that these images are colored for scientific or aesthetic purposes, how the public processes this information is not well understood.

So, do the bright colors improve our perception of microbes? More importantly, how much should we trust all the medical images we see on television and in magazines? Although there are no consistent answers to these questions, it seems that Jerram hopes his artwork, prepared in consultation with virologists from the University of Bristol, will inspire people to think carefully about the accuracy of images in popular science and also discover a small sense of beauty in these otherwise ravaging diseases.

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