Museums display stunning sculptures of coronavirus and Oxford AstraZeneca COVID vaccine

The science of the pandemic is the inspiration behind two displays open from this week.    

The Museum of Natural History display of 2020: The Sphere that Changed the World by Scottish artist Angela Palmer is a sculpture in glass of the coronavirus particle at 8 million times its size.  The work was unveiled by Professor Sarah Gilbert, lead developer of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, just two miles from the laboratories where Professor Gilbert and her team developed the vaccine, which is now protecting millions of lives.

A second work by Palmer is also on display - ‘The Spike,’ a dramatically upscaled representation of the virus’ deadly protein spike which enables the particle sphere to invade the human cell.

In creating 2020: The Sphere that Changed the World, Palmer’s ambitious vision involved engraving details of the virus’s complex structure onto multiple sheets of glass to create a three-dimensional ‘drawing’ of the particle suspended in space. The end result is an eerie and ethereal rendering of the coronavirus: from the front of the sculpture you are confronted by the entire sphere, with its protein spikes emerging from the surface, but as you pass around, it disappears entirely from view, only to reappear again, echoing the elusive behaviour of the virus as it continues to spread around the world.

Professor Sarah Gilbert said: ‘Angela’s powerful and thought-provoking sculpture is a beautiful yet fragile representation of the virus that has become our mortal enemy. The separate image of the spike protein represents the weapon that we have used to fight back, using that part of the virus to make the vaccines to protect us all.’

Nearby at the History of Science Museum, a unique glass sculpture of a nanoparticle of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine by internationally renowned artist Luke Jerram will be on display in the museum’s entrance gallery. The sculpture, created in 2021 and on display for the first time, has been acquired by the museum.

The artwork of the vaccine nanoparticle at one million times its actual size is 34cm across and created from borosilicate glass with the same techniques used in medical scientific glassware for test tubes and distilleries.

In November 2020, Luke Jerram tested positive for COVID-19 and during his recovery he was inspired to create this vaccine artwork in tribute to the scientists and medical teams working collaboratively across the world to the fight the virus. It was released in a limited edition of 5 sculptures to mark the ten millionth vaccination in the UK. With the other Jerram vaccine sculptures going to private collections, the HSM will be the only place in the UK where the vaccine artwork can be viewed by the public.

Director, Dr Silke Ackermann said, “Exploring the connections between people, science and art, and sharing the stories of science in Oxford, are the cornerstones of our mission. I cannot imagine a more appropriate way in which to celebrate the re-opening of HSM after lockdown than with a display of Luke Jerram’s stunning artwork that so evocatively responds to the fantastic achievement of our colleagues just up the road whose research has been followed closely by people around the world.” 

Artist Luke Jerram said : “This is the only vaccine sculpture to be on public display in the UK. I’m proud this new artwork is in such a prestigious and important museum. I hope that anyone who’s had this particular vaccine might enjoy imagining this sculpture on a minute scale inside their very own body!”

The glass vaccine sculpture will be accompanied by an online 'In Conversation’ event on 20 May 2021. Professor Sarah Gilbert, lead researcher on the Oxford Vaccine team, will tell the scientific story of the vaccine development, and artist Luke Jerram will discuss his response to the vaccine in his artistic practice. The conversation will be facilitated by the Director of the History of Science Museum, Dr Silke Ackermann. For more information visit where tickets can be booked.

Both the Museum of Natural History and the History of Science Museum are now open to visitors. In order to make the experience as safe and enjoyable as possible, all visitors will be required to pre-book a free timed ticket online.

To book a visit to the History of Science Museum:

To book a visit to the Museum of Natural History: