Glass models of fungi

Image 1 A 25 cm glass model of Bremia lactucae (downy mildew), a fungus that attacks lettuce crops; made 1930s. Image © the Whipple Museum (Wh.5826.24). View large image (247KB).
Rotate the glass fungus model of Bremia lactucae: Launch the activity in a new window.

Dr. William A. R. Dillon Weston, a fungus expert at the University of Cambridge, demonstrated the structures of extremely small fungi using his own hand-made glass models. His models show fungi that cause diseases in plants, including the potato blight fungus and moulds found on bread and vegetables.

Fungi down the microscope

Trying to identify fungi and moulds that attack food crops can be a difficult task. The more quickly a type of fungus is identified, the more quickly the crops can be treated.

Dr. William Dillon Weston XR  (1899-1953) was a mycologist (a fungus specialist) working for the Ministry of Fisheries in Cambridge in the 1930s. He came up with an inventive way to demonstrate what extremely small fungi looked like when viewed with a microscope. Instead of referring farmers to pictures of fungi, Dr. Dillon Weston made models of them using glass.

Dr. Dillon Weston's glass models were all made between 1936 and 1953. The particular fungi that he focused on were those that cause diseases in plants, which are normally only visible using a microscope. As well a being a useful demonstration tool, the models are also particularly beautiful.

Types of glass fungi

The majority of the models illustrate microscopic disease-causing fungi, modelled at a magnification of between 20-600 times. They include common moulds found on bread and vegetables, fruit rots and diseases of potatoes, wheat and brassicas. Generally, this type of model was made using clear, uncoloured glass, as the fungi are transparent or hyaline in nature. Coloured glass was used where necessary, such as for dark spores. These models are often extremely fragile objects.

» EXPLORE: rotate the glass model of downy mildew fungus

The other group of models include larger fungi and vegetables that are being attacked by fungal growths, all of which are modelled at approximately natural size. Dillon Weston made these models from opaque, coloured glass, and they are much sturdier than the transparent type.

Only one other collection of glass fungi models is known - part of the The Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants [http://www.hmnh.harvard.edu/exhibitions/glassflowers.html] in the Harvard Museum of Natural History, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

» More on Dr. Dillon Weston's life and work

Ruth Horry

Ruth Horry, 'Glass models of fungi', Explore Whipple Collections, Whipple Museum of the History of Science, University of Cambridge, 2008 [http://www.hps.cam.ac.uk/whipple/explore/models/glassfungi/, accessed 29 April 2017]

 
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