Lobby Artwork Celebrating PCR Technology

 Roche Diagnostics, Branchburg, NJ

Submitted by: J. Kenneth Leap December 8, 2004


Statement of Intent

I don’t pretend to have fully comprehended the specifics of Roche’s PCR technology. Researching this project has been a learning experience for me. I find the work you are performing exciting and processes elegant. The implications of the technology are staggering. As an artist studying the literature provided at the orientation meeting what struck me was how PCR makes the visible the invisible. This then is the theme of my solution.

The artwork I am proposing would be wall mounted and I have selected space above the metal door to the fabrication facility as the most appropriate location in the lobby. The following description relates to the accompanying rendering of my design.

Nine plate glass panels are mounted slightly off the wall surface. In the lower left corner a metal element representing a DNA sample unwinds and separates. Within the strand is a single piece of dichroic glass representing that portion of the genetic code, which is to be tested. Man observes this sample of material but is blind. He is depicted in green, symbolizing the natural world. PCR is patterned after the natural process of DNA replication (alluded to by the green colors and the leaf pattern in the background).

The steps in this process, Denaturation, Annealing & Extension enable a single sample of DNA to be copied an exponential number of times. The process involves cycles of heating and cooling (represented by red & blue). Primers, specifically engineered from the nucleic acid bases adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine are present in the reaction solution (represented by the letters A, G, C & T etched onto glass surface.)

The thermostable DNA polymerase (shown as yellow hexagons) catalyzes the synthesis of the complimentary strands and makes the process possible. At the completion of the amplification cycle two identical copies have been produced for each target. As this cycle is repeated in a chain reaction an exponential number of copies as produced. In the design this is represented by 8 complete DNA elements with dichroic inclusions in the precise location as the original sample. In this quantity a pattern begins to emerge.

A woman's face peers through the "veil" symbolizing that the results (if not literally visible) are now comprehensible. The woman is rendered in a blue that matches the company logo.

Technical Scope

There are many techniques for creating meaningful imagery with glass. The history of the application of stained glass to the building arts stretches in an unbroken line back to its misty origins in the Middle Ages. America made its own unique contribution during the second half of the 19th century with the invention of opalescent glass. This glass, in which the color is marbleized with white to give it opacity, became almost synonymous with the name Tiffany.

I have been working in stained glass for more than 17 years. Through out my career I have focused on an older tradition, which is European in origin. I begin with sheets of transparent glass and apply glass-based pigments to the surface to control the opacity of the color. The imagery I create is rendered permanent buy firing the glass in a kiln. This technique, called glass painting becomes part of the surface of the glass; it never changes color, nor fades and has been evidenced to last centuries.

For this project I would start with large sheets of optically clear glass and paint the design onto the surface using a combination of transparent and opaque enamels. Some elements, like the letters representing the amino acids would be carved into the glass. The DNA strands would be simplified models of left-handed DNA constructed of metal. The lower left “dividing strand” would be mounted close to the surface of the glass while the upper “copies” would be suspended further from the glass surface projecting subtly into the atrium space.

The dichroic glass mounted on the DNA strands is highly reflective in focused light. The artwork can be lit such a way that small projections of color cast are upon the floor and walls of the lobby, attracting the attention of the viewer and directing their gaze toward the artwork.