Health Blog

Caution: Communicable Diseases May Be Breakable

New virus sculptures explore the public perception of scientific images.

September 24, 2009

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.

Related on Scienceline:

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About the Author

Alyson Kenward

Alyson Kenward studied chemistry at the University of Calgary. After five years of trying to keep yellow mixtures from turning orange, she decided it was time to swap her lab coat for a laptop and get down to the business of being a writer of all things science-related. Although she misses how her stir plates used to serenade her, she was happy to recall just how much she loves writing. In her spare time, she enjoys exploring the central New Jersey wilderness.


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