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Stairway to knowledge: Portrait of a DNA Sequence by Roger Berry

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The giant sculpture is both a sparkling project of art and an accurate replica of a DNA segment. It can be found hanging in the massive four-story spiral stairway of the Life Sciences building at the University of California in Davis. California artist Roger Berry designed the glass and steel structure in 1998.

Image of Portrait of a DNA Sequence.
Portrait of a DNA Sequence by Roger Berry

"The double helix is at the heart of modern molecular biology and symbolizes one of the themes that links research programs in the building," says Mark McNamee, former dean of the biological sciences division at UC Davis.

A suspended helix of coiled steel and colored glass, the structure is 50 feet long and 18 inches wide, depicting 201 base pairs, or chemical letters. The sculpture is modeled after a segment of sea urchin DNA that was first deciphered by UC Davis researchers in the early 1990s.

Berry used dichroic glass for the base pairs, a special type of glass that both transmits and reflects light. A round wafer of the glass can appear to be either of two colors, depending on the viewer's vantage point.

"Gazing up or down through multiple layers of bases turns the pattern into a confusion of other hues—deep blue, forest green and scarlet," Berry says in a UC Davis press statement. "This 'sort of visual noise' is much like the jumble of information within DNA that scientists are striving to understand," he adds.

Birgit Reinert

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