Glass Microbiology

Luke Jerram’s multidisciplinary practice involves the creation of sculptures, installations and live arts projects. Since 2004, he has been turning viruses and other pathogens into stunning glass sculptures, in an ongoing series titled “Glass Microbiology.” Covering maladies such as AIDS, Ebola and Swine Flu, his works are both beautiful and disturbing, challenging observers to reinterpret their view of the tiny organisms.


Glass Microbiology is a body of glass work which has been developed by artist Luke Jerram since 2004. Made to contemplate the global impact of each disease, the artworks are created as alternative representations of viruses to the artificially coloured imagery received through the media. In fact, viruses have no colour as they are smaller than the wavelength of light. By extracting the colour from the imagery and creating jewel-like beautiful sculptures in glass, a complex tension has arisen between the artworks’ beauty and what they represent.

Luke Jerram: Ebola (Photograph by Luke Jerram)

Luke Jerram: Ebola (Photograph by Luke Jerram)

His transparent and colourless glassworks consider how the artificial colouring of scientific microbiological imagery, affects our understanding of these phenomena. See these examples of HIV imagery. 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? How does the choice of different colours affect their reception?

Swine Flu (oval) - (Photograph by Luke Jerram)

Swine Flu (oval) – (Photograph by Luke Jerram)

Swine Flu (detail) - (Photograph by Luke Jerram)

Swine Flu (detail) – (Photograph by Luke Jerram)


Photographs of Jerram’s glass artworks are now used widely in medical journals, text books and media stories and are seen as useful representations of virology within the scientific community. His work has been presented in the Lancet, the British Medical Journal and on the front cover of Nature Magazine.

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


A Sense of Scale
The virus sculptures are approximately 1,000,000 times larger than the actual viruses. This great slide bar animation shows how small they really are.

T4 Bacteriophage 2011 (Photograph by Luke Jerram)

T4 Bacteriophage 2011 (Photograph by Luke Jerram)

Smallpox (Photograph by Luke Jerram)

Smallpox (Photograph by Luke Jerram)

Ev.71 - Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (Photograph by Luke Jerram)

Ev.71 – Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (Photograph by Luke Jerram)


In 2010, Jerram received the 25th Rakow Award for the series from The Corning Museum of Glass, New York. In 2009, his sculptures were presented at The Mori Museum, Tokyo and in 2015 his sculptures were presented at ArtScience Museum, Singapore alongside Leonardo Da Vinci’s Codex Atlanticus.

The Glass Microbiology sculptures are in museum collections around the world, including The Metropolitan Museum, NYC, The Wellcome Collection, London and The Museum of Glass, Shanghai. They are also regularly displayed in exhibitions around the globe and sold to private collectors.

Untitled Future Mutation (Photograph by Luke Jerram)

Untitled Future Mutation (Photograph by Luke Jerram)


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