Giant floating E. coli sculpture unveiled by university academics and installation artist

  • Giant sculpture, suspended from the ceiling of Sheffield’s Winter Garden, is five million times bigger than a real E. coli bacterium and was produced by Cameron Balloons – the world's largest hot air balloon manufacturer.
  • The installation has been unveiled as part of the University of Sheffield’s KrebsFest, a seven-week festival celebrating the life and work of the University’s Nobel Prize winning academic Sir Hans Krebs.
  • Sir Hans Krebs was awarded the Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1953 for discovering the Krebs cycle – the conversion of food into energy within a cell.

E. coli sculpture

A giant, 28 metre (90 foot) long inflatable sculpture of an E. coli bacterium has been revealed today by the University of Sheffield.

E. coli exhibition at the Winter GardenThe sculpture, which is about five million times bigger than a real E. coli bacterium, has been suspended from the ceiling of Sheffield’s Winter Garden.

The bacterium has been scaled up to such a size that if a person standing next to it was expanded to the same extent they would be about 9,000,000 metres tall – the equivalent of 29,527,000 feet or 5,592 miles, which is the same as travelling from the UK to Japan.

The artwork, which has been developed by installation artist Luke Jerram in consultation with University of Sheffield academics, is so large it has had to be produced by Cameron Balloons; the world’s largest hot air balloon manufacturer.

It is made of PVC and Ripstop fabric and features DNA, pili (hair-like spikes) and five flagella – long tails which are characteristic of many types of motile (moving) bacteria.

The installation has been unveiled as part of the University of Sheffield’s KrebsFest; a seven-week festival celebrating the life and work of the University’s Nobel Prize winning academic Sir Hans Krebs, who was awarded the Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1953 for discovering the Krebs cycle – the conversion of food into energy within a cell.

The theme of the Festival is “Hidden Worlds”, shedding light on unseen wonders of nature.

Jerram’s work is designed to make the microscopic world around us visible and draw attention to the hidden workings and biological mechanisms that underpin life on earth; the importance of bacteria in our lives.

The use of bacteria is vital in medical research, and although some forms of E. coli can cause illness or even death, it is simultaneously described by scientists as the workhorse of biochemistry, with E. coli bacteria used to replicate DNA, synthesise proteins and as a model to understand the basic principles of life.

Luke Jerram, lead artist for the University of Sheffield’s KrebsFest, said: “Making visible the microscopic world around us, the artwork was made as an experimental object to contemplate and allow the public to experience a dizzying perception of scale. Bacteria are our ancestors. They were the earliest form of life on our planet and exist everywhere in the world, from the deepest oceans, deserts and even in the clouds. Bacteria are the simplest form of free living life.

“I'm interested to find out what the public make of the artwork. Does the bacteria look scary, beautiful, comical or alien?”

Find out about KrebsFest

Additional information

The University of Sheffield

With almost 26,000 of the brightest students from around 120 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

In 2014 it was voted number one university in the UK for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education and in the last decade has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes in recognition of the outstanding contribution to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life.

Sheffield has five Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline and Siemens, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

About Luke Jerram

Luke Jerram's multidisciplinary practice involves the creation of sculptures, installations and live arts projects. Living in the UK but working internationally for 18 years, Jerram has created a number of extraordinary art projects which have excited and inspired people around the globe.

Jerram's Glass Microbiology artworks are in museum collections around the world including The Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC), Shanghai Museum of Glass, Wellcome Collection (London) and Corning Museum of Glass (USA). Recently his sculptures were presented alongside the work of Leonardo da Vinci at the Artscience Museum, Singapore.

He is known worldwide for his large scale public engagement artworks. Most recently his giant installation Park and Slide caught the world's imagination. His celebrated street pianos installation 'Play Me, I'm Yours' has been presented in over 47 cities so far, and been enjoyed by more than 8 million people around the world.

Contact

For further information please contact:

Clare Parkin
Media Relations Officer
University of Sheffield
0114 222 9851
clare.parkin@sheffield.ac.uk