The RSC bids a sad farewell to Bobbitt the glass baby

26 November 2012

It is with great sadness that the RSC announces the sorry demise of Bobbitt, the glass baby, in Berlin last week. 

The famed companion of RSC Immediate Past-President Professor David Phillips arrived in the German capital on Monday shattered into dozens of pieces.

Baby Bobbitt, who was made by a glass-blower at the University of Southampton, was 30 years old when he met his sorry end.

Professor Phillips and his glass baby are well-known on the science lecture scene. For many years Bobbitt has helped Professor Phillips, a specialist in photodynamic therapy, to demonstrate the treatment of neo-natal jaundice with blue light to audiences across the UK and abroad.

Bobbitt had travelled to Germany with the RSC Immediate Past-President to deliver the British Council's Queen's Lecture on Monday 19 November at the Technical University in Berlin. 

The dynamic duo made their way to Berlin by plane, with Bobbitt packed in a metal trunk lined with polyurethane foam and soft pillows to ensure his safe passage. However, on opening the container in the university's Audimax lecture theatre, Professor Phillips was dismayed to find that his beloved glass baby had smashed into pieces.

He said of his unhappy discovery: "It was terribly sad to find that my trusty old friend hadn't survived the journey.

"Bobbitt has been a key part of my demonstration lectures over the years and he has delighted many thousands of people, all the while teaching them about the important role of chemistry in medicine.

"We call him Bobbitt after the unfortunate gentleman in the USA who had his appendage cut off by his wife when she discovered he had been unfaithful. 

"In the past, the most frequent breakage of the baby had been in that nether region because the stopcock breaks off - but sadly this time he has broken beyond repair." 

Happily, Professor Phillips has a spare baby at Imperial College London, though not as elegant as Bobbitt. 


David Phillips with Bobbitt

Professor Phillips pictured with Bobbitt outside St Pancras railway station, London, prior to a trip to Belgium in October 2011.


During the Queen's Lecture, entitled 'Prosperity through chemistry', Bobbitt had been due to demonstrate how blue light breaks down the build-up of bilirubin in the fat under the skin of jaundiced babies. By exposing the skin to the light, a photo-chemical reaction occurs that makes bilirubin water-soluble.

"The glass baby simulates this," said Professor Phillips. "Initially there is a fat solution of bilirubin in the baby's legs. Then I give the baby a 'drink' of water to show that the bilirubin remains in the fat solution and doesn't dissolve in water.

"By irradiating the baby with a blue/UV lamp for a few minutes, the bilirubin is rendered water-soluble and it migrates to the water layer above the flask's stopcock.

"The demonstration finale then shows the baby 'peeing' the bilirubin into a potty."

Fortunately, Professor Phillips was able to use a number of other exciting demonstrations to highlight the importance of chemistry for a prosperous future, delighting the more than 800-strong audience with glow-in-the-dark fluorescent solutions and loud bangs generated by igniting hydrogen gas.

However, as well as entertaining those in attendance, Professor Phillips had an important message to deliver in his Queen's Lecture on chemistry, calling for sustained funding for so-called 'blue skies' research where real-world applications are not immediately apparent.
He used a number of examples of scientific excellence from the past to show that blue-skies research can ultimately lead to significant scientific developments that can be of great economic benefit.
Recent evidence of this was the award of this year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Robert Lefkowitz and Brian Kobilka, for their research into the structure and function of G-protein-coupled-receptors. While a practical application for this research was not immediately evident when they first began their studies, today more than 50 per cent of medications achieve their effect through G-protein-coupled receptors.

The Queen's Lecture is sponsored by the British Council and the British Embassy in Germany and takes place each year at the Technical University in Berlin. The lecture series was instituted to commemorate the State Visit and Queen's Visit to Berlin in 1965. Following student unrest at Berlin universities in the 1960s, the lecture series lapsed. It was revived in 1997 with a lecture by renowned zoologist Baron John Krebs, and since then a number of high-profile speakers have attracted large audiences of academics, students, diplomats and commercial representatives.

A message from the Queen, welcoming Professor Phillips' forthcoming discourse, was delivered by the Her Majesty's Ambassador in Germany, Mr Simon McDonald, before the lecture began. The event ended with a drinks reception at which traditionally, and somewhat surprisingly, Elgar's Land of Hope and Glory is performed by the Technical University Berlin's student orchestra.

Related Link

A foreign trip for the 30-year-old glass baby that never ages

Bobbitt, the glass baby, is 30 years old today.

Contact and Further Information

Victoria Steven
Media Relations Executive
Royal Society of Chemistry, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BA
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7440 3322