Glass Microbiology | Luke Jerram

September 18, 2009
These transparent glass sculptures were created to contemplate the global impact of each disease and to consider how the artificial colouring of scientific imagery affects our understanding of phenomena. Jerram is exploring the tension between the artworks’ beauty and what they represent, their impact on humanity.

The question of pseudo-colouring in biomedicine and its use for science communicative purposes, is a vast and complex subject. If some images are coloured for scientific purposes, and others altered simply for aesthetic reasons, how can a viewer tell the difference? How many people believe viruses are brightly coloured? Are there any colour conventions and what kind of ‘presence’ do pseudocoloured images have that ‘naturally’ coloured specimens don’t? See these examples of HIV imagery. How does the choice of different colours affect their reception?

In response to these questions, Jerram has created a series of transparent, three dimensional sculptures.  Photographs of these artworks will be distributed to act as alternative representations of each virus. Ironically the coloured photograph of the HIV sculpture by David Sayer won an award from the Institute of Medical Imaging 2007.

The sculptures were designed in consultation with virologists from the University of Bristol using a combination of different scientific photographs and models. They were made in collaboration with glassblowers Kim George, Brian Jones and Norman Veitch.

Jerram said,
Its great to be exploring the edges of scientific understanding and visualisation of a virus. Scientists aren’t able to answer many of the questions I ask them, such as how the RNA is exactly fitted within the Capsid ? At the moment, the technology isn’t there to answer all these questions for certain.  I’m also pushing the boundaries of glassblowing. Some of my designs simply can’t be created in glass, Some are simply too fragile and gravity would cause them to collapse under their own weight. So there’s a very careful balancing act that needs to take place, between the limitations of current scientific knowledge and glassblowing techniques.”


Editions of this work are on display in The Wellcome Collection, London and Bristol City Museum. Dimensions – 8cm diameter. A further edition was auctioned for the HIV/Aids Charity AVERT, raising money for victims in South Africa. 

A letter from a stranger received Sept ’09…….

Dear Luke,
I just saw a photo of your glass sculpture of HIV.
I can’t stop looking at it. Knowing that millions of those guys are in me, and will be a part of me for the rest of my life. Your sculpture, even as a photo, has made HIV much more real for me than any photo or illustration I’ve ever seen. It’s a very odd feeling seeing my enemy, and the eventual likely cause of my death, and finding it so beautiful.


During the 20th Century, it is estimated that Smallpox was responsible for 300–500 million deaths. The virus has killed more people than any other disease in human history. An amazing scientific success, Smallpox was completely wiped out in the 1970s through a program of global vaccination. Only two samples of the virus remain in existence, stored in high security labs of the USA and in Russia. The US Institute of Medicine, who are researching potential clinical uses for the controversial last remaining samples of living Smallpox, are using Jerram’s photographs for the cover of their report.

With commemorations around the world 2010 sees the 30th anniversary of the global eradication of the disease.

Swine Flu Virus

This sculpture was created to contemplate the issues of the Swine Flu virus; the global pandemic and the imagery presented to the public by the media. The Wellcome Collection have just acquired edition 1 of 5 for their gallery.  The artwork will be loaned to the Mori Museum in Tokyo for display, before being permanently displayed at the Wellcome Collection later in the year.

Solo Show at Smithfield Gallery

For the first time ever, an exhibition of all Jerram’s glass sculptures will be presented along with photographic works and video. Works include Avian Flu, Smallpox, HIV, Swine Flu, SARS Corona Virus and E. coli. Read about show in Guardian and Times.

From 22nd Sept-3rd Oct at Smithfield Gallery, London.  
Opening Times Mon- Fri 10-6pm.  
The launch will be 6-8pm on 22nd Sept.  Come one and all!

For enquiries about purchasing glasswork, please contact Smithfields gallery.


For high resolution images of glass artworks as seen on Jerram’s website contact: CarolineCaroline MT. Public Relations. email:

Contact Wellcome Images for more photos of the Swine Flu Sculpture.

These sculptures are amazing.  Who’d have thought that viruses were so beautiful?  Click through to Luke Jerram’s site to see the pictures.

Posted via web from 23narchy in the UK


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