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Sep. 05, 2012

Deadly Elegance

by Annette Heist

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Click on icon in upper right corner of slideshow to enlarge images.
On this week's show we'll be talking about some of the viruses that are making headlines this summer: West Nile virus infections have killed at least 87 people in the U.S. this year. And at least two men have died from hantavirus infections thought to be acquired during a stay at Yosemite National Park. There's also a new viral disease scientists are working to understand. The so-called "Heartland virus" is thought to be carried by ticks, and has sickened at least two men in Missouri.
 
Viruses are little more than genetic material wrapped in a protein coat; tiny machines that hijack cells so they can reproduce. They're almost elegant-- if you can use that word to describe deadly weapons.
 
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Artist Luke Jerram captures a facet of that elegance with his 3-D "glass microbiology" sculptures. Jerram says he created the viruses so that viewers could "contemplate the global impact of each disease." Just like actual viruses, the sculptures are colorless and, Jerram says, offer "alternative representations of viruses to the artificially coloured imagery we receive through the media."  (Jerram himself is colorblind.)
 
Jerram consults with virologists to create accurate but supersized representations of the viruses. The swine flu virus pictured above is about 7" in diameter, or about 1,000,000 times actual size. Click on the slide show above to see more of Jerram's sculptures.
 
 
About Annette Heist

Annette Heist is a former senior producer for Science Friday.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

Science Friday® is produced by the Science Friday Initiative, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Science Friday® and SciFri® are registered service marks of Science Friday, Inc. Site design by Pentagram; engineering by Mediapolis.

 

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