The three-story atrium in Temple University’s Medical Education and Research building is now home to some super-sized bacteria.

The medical school recently unveiled The Unseen World, a new, 150-foot art installation comprising 55 giant sculptures of various bacteria and one virus found in the body. Each piece is inlaid with light-emitting diodes that pulse and wave to give the illusion of movement and illustrate the way that bacteria communicate with each other in the body, a process called quorum sensing.

The installation was formally dedicated to the medical school at last week’s Stiffel Learned Lecture Series, hosted by Dean John Daly and the Art Committee at Temple University School of Medicine.

“The Medical School’s art selection committee was comprised of experts from the Tyler School of Art, artists and collectors from throughout the region,” said Daly. “They selected this beautiful work from over 22 competing artists. Art and medicine are inextricably linked, and this sculpture is just another example of this linkage.”

The stunning work is the creation of local artists Kate Kaman and Joel Erland, who say that their goal is to instill a sense of wonder and awe among those who sit under it each day and members of the community who pass by it on North Broad Street.

“This is what Temple’s medical students are learning about, right here in this building,” said Kaman. “We wanted to take what was going on in the classrooms and the labs and make it accessible and fun for the people outside these walls — and maybe spur their interest in science as well.”

“When we started the process we were very much in love with the forms, which are very, very complex,” said Erland. “There’s this entire other world that exists inside of us — cities and highways and rivers and skyscrapers — and everything is just phenomenally busy. None of us would be here without bacteria.”

During the construction of the sculptures, which took about a year to create, the artists met with Bennett Lorber, M.D., Thomas M. Durant Professor of Medicine at the School of Medicine, to explore potential microbial forms that might be included in the work. 

“Kate and Joel did a tremendous amount of homework for this piece,” he said. “They were deliberate in their design, and seriously researched microorganisms and considered in great detail how bacteria stick together in the body, and how they move around and communicate with each other.”

Lorber, whose own art works grace the walls of break-out rooms throughout the building, said that the sculptures would help make Temple a destination for artists and scientists alike.

“The piece reminds us that we are constantly surrounded by successful life forms that we can’t even see,” he said. “It’s a visual reminder that there is a world we don’t consider, but is crucial for our existence.”

The Unseen World was largely made possible by the support of alumnus E. Ronald Salvitti, chair of the School of Medicine Board of Visitors.

Watch the video of the exhibit,  click here

Source:  Temple University Communications,  March 15, 2011