On the left side of the entrance to the Copernicus Science Centre, you can see several tall, vertical serpentines making up the Aquaporin – a fountain sculpture. Its creator, Jarosław Kozakiewicz, was inspired by special proteins forming channels for transporting water molecules. The scientific consultant was Professor Maciej Geller.
Aquaporins are similar to twisted serpentines. This is also what Kozakiewicz’s fountain looks like, since it recreates their appearance and the way they work in a macro scale. The water will be expelled through three nozzles, which are related to the structure of a water molecule consisting of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.
Real-life aquaporins are made up of six interconnected right-handed helixes. They can be found in vertebrates and invertebrates, in plants, even in bacteria and – like the water they transport – they are vital to life. Aquaporins are found in kidney cells, which recover 150-200 litres of water from urine every day, and also facilitate the transport of water to the plant cells, which need it for photosynthesis. We know about the existence of 300 different aquaporins, and at least 13 of them are found in humans.
The discovery of these proteins was preceded by years of research and was connected with some controversies. In the mid-19th century, German biologist Wilhelm F.P. Pfeffer wrote that water was entering the body thanks to special particles. Scientists have long been looking for answers to the question of water transport through cellular membranes. In 1986, Romanian researcher Gheorghe H. Benga has identified the proteins responsible for this phenomenon; however, his discovery went unnoticed. A year later, the American researcher Peter Agre from John Hopkins University followed in his footsteps and received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2003 for his discovery of water channels.
Jarosław Kozakiewicz is a professor at the Faculty of Design of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, a graduate of the Faculty of Sculpture at the Academy in Warsaw, as well as the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York. He works on the border of sculpture, architecture and design; in his work he seeks analogy between the functioning of the human body and the world of nature.