The starting point of the touring exhibition Design4Science, now running at the Nobel Museum in Stockholm, was the pioneering Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK — the birthplace of protein crystallography. Max Perutz, who was chairman of the lab when it was founded in 1962, encouraged photographers and designers to be part of the scientific team from the start.

Wandering around the well-known protein and virus models that resulted, one much more recent piece stands out: a dizzying ghost of a protein molecule mounted in a block of glass. Colin Rennie, a young artist from Sunderland, UK, took inspiration from ATP synthase, the molecule that rotates to produce adenosine triphosphate, the universal currency of biological energy. Rennie used a powerful water-jet cutter to recreate the three-dimensional structure of the molecule in a 780-kilogram cube of 30 glass layers measuring 1 metre across.


Rennie's vibrant artwork captures the spatial and temporal fixity of protein crystallography and the sense of motion of this particular molecule. The transparent glass embodies the tension between the seen and the unseen that is intrinsic to our perception of the molecular world. At the same time, it mimics the protein crystals that give scientists their atomic models.

As the renowned scientific artist Irving Geis once said: “We can only say 'it's something like that' — and only create a visual metaphor.”