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The Unsettling Beauty of Lethal Viruses
February 8, 2013 1:58 PM   Subscribe

“Viruses have no color as they are smaller than the wavelength of light,” says Jerram, in an email. “So the artworks are created as alternative representations of viruses to the artificially colored imagery we receive through the media.” Jerram and Davidson create sketches, which they then take to the glassblowers, to see whether the intricate structures of the diseases can be replicated in glass, at approximately one million times their original size. RECENTLY
posted by heyho (26 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
The best part of this is, if you insert one of these objects into a Dale Chihuly sculpture, the sculpture is forced to cannibalize itself to make more of these. Which is nice, because these are cool, and we have kind of a lot of Chihuly sculptures lying around collecting dust and being pleased with themselves.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:11 PM on February 8, 2013 [10 favorites]


A ceiling full of HIV might be a bit creepy, though.
posted by maryr at 2:18 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


A Ceiling Full of HIV was the title of my first album.
posted by IvoShandor at 2:20 PM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Viruses have no color as they are smaller than the wavelength of light

I don't understand. I don't know what I'm talking about, but I thought that the color of an object as we perceive it was determined by the wavelength of light reflected from or emitted by that object, hitting the retina. Doesn't every object then have to have a color, assuming it is perceivable by the human eye? Is this just another way of saying that viruses are too small to see or image with light? Does that mean you can't image a virus using an optical microscope?
posted by eugenen at 2:28 PM on February 8, 2013


yep.
posted by sexyrobot at 2:32 PM on February 8, 2013


http://www.coffeeshopphysics.com/articles/2013-02/01_viruses_have_no_color/
posted by mary8nne at 2:33 PM on February 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


There are more images on the artist's website. Bacteriophage, for example.

I really wish there were desktop-sized images available.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:33 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Does that mean you can't image a virus using an optical microscope?

Let me introduce you my greatest enemy: the diffraction limit.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:41 PM on February 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


Oh cool. There's a bunch of these in the gallery down the road from me. I don't know if I'd really want to own one, but they are beautiful and amazing
posted by iotic at 2:47 PM on February 8, 2013


That said, you can totally image a virus with an optical microscope. You just need to fluorescently label it (how about using a fluorescent antibody?), make sure that it's relatively far away from anything else fluorescent, and use a microscopy system with a sufficiently high signal-to-noise ratio. You can even localize the fluorescent virus to an area smaller than the diffraction limit of the microscope, if you happen to know what the microscope's point spread function looks like.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:49 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


“Viruses have no color as they are smaller than the wavelength of light

Just because our stupid eyes can't see that high.

At least quarks have flavors. I like the tangerine ones best.
posted by Twang at 2:51 PM on February 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


I have often wondered why every news story about a new flu virus comes with an electron microscope image of the virus. Is this so I can keep my eyes peeled for it? If I happen to spot it on a doorknob, what should I do?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:02 PM on February 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


also, if you like these, and happen to be in New York, check out the Hall of Biodiversity at the Natural History Museum...the glass models of single-celled organisms they have are stunning (and most are in color...)
posted by sexyrobot at 3:03 PM on February 8, 2013


My impression was that an atom absorbs a light packet, putting the atom into an excited state, and in de-excitation, the atom emits another light packet whose energy (thus wavelength) depends on the whether the de-excitation was complete or partial.
posted by Ardiril at 3:26 PM on February 8, 2013


"The Unsettling Beauty of Lethal Viruses"

First pic: E. coli

D'oh!

Just snarking, this is awesome :) Thanks
posted by roquetuen at 3:26 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


If I happen to spot it on a doorknob, what should I do?

IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING!

After we tried this in relation to viruses, we got really tired of everyone saying something all the damn time!
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:30 PM on February 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


Somewhat bigger pics from the Guardian in 2009. They've been around for a while, so there should be a few more of them...
posted by Devonian at 3:37 PM on February 8, 2013


Could you see viruses in "color" by imaging them with EM waves of higher frequencies and then shifting everything down to the visible spectrum?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 5:10 PM on February 8, 2013


The Unsettling Beauty Cuteness of Lethal Viruses
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:01 PM on February 8, 2013


Could you see viruses in "color" by imaging them with EM waves of higher frequencies and then shifting everything down to the visible spectrum?

Yes! Mapping one color to another is the process that creates cool false-color images. Handy for a wide variety of sciences.
posted by ddbeck at 7:42 PM on February 8, 2013


i get the virus-being-smaller-than-visible wavelength, but e coli are definitely visible by light microscopy. do they have a color besides 'broth-colored'? [i have used e. coli for almost 20 years....i have never wondered before what color it was....]
posted by Tandem Affinity at 7:43 PM on February 8, 2013


My impression was that an atom absorbs a light packet, putting the atom into an excited state, and in de-excitation, the atom emits another light packet whose energy (thus wavelength) depends on the whether the de-excitation was complete or partial.

OK. What you've described here are processes related to absorption and fluorescence, and these are both definitely ways that things can have a color. (There's also scattering and reflection). When an atom is in a molecule, it's the electronic structure of the entire molecule that determines how it will interact with light. In the case of the major biological molecules in viruses (proteins and nucleic acids) absorption and fluorescence both take place in the UV. There will also be a bunch of stong absorption lines in the IR, but these would be obscured by the IR absorption of water. Nothing in the visible, in general.
posted by mr_roboto at 8:01 PM on February 8, 2013


Judging by aggregates, I'd say E. coli are whitish (which is to say, pellet-colored).
posted by maryr at 8:39 PM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


WANT. WANT. I SO WANT. The glass sculptures, I mean. Not so much the actual disease-causing pathogens.
posted by BlueJae at 9:27 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Aw, too bad, I was going to point out that you already have your own E. coli.
posted by maryr at 10:06 PM on February 8, 2013


Malaria

Um...Plasmodium?
posted by drinkcoffee at 6:35 AM on February 9, 2013


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