Sunday, October 4, 2015

What Should Freshman Biology Majors Know About Microbiology?

Here, in this second installment of "u-Tube," I discuss what first year students should know about microbiology.  Keep in mind that many institutions (like my own) only have one microbiology course.

I believe a good approach is to ask my current junior and senior Microbiology students what they believe freshmen should know about #MattersMicrobial™.  

This is just part of my usual efforts know.

Many thanks to Kaitlin Reiss for the fabulous artwork!

I hope you enjoy the student perspective on this subject.  

Sunday, September 27, 2015

My First Class #LuxArt Competition!

In my one semester microbiology course at the University of Puget Sound, I try hard to balance the usual "target rich lectures" for upcoming tests with creative approaches to my beloved MattersMicrobial™.  My goal is to get the students to "buy in" to the wonders of microbiology---hopefully my enthusiasm is infectious!

Historically, many educators have found that student-centered creativity really engages students and increases overall learning. I have written several blog posts about exactly that, as seen here and here.

Most readers of this blog know very well that I adore bacterial bioluminescence, and have since I was eleven or twelve years old. I enjoy making "art" with "living light," from portraits to a "Luxmas" tree.

I often have to remind students about the difference between fluorescence and luminescence.  It turns out that many yellow "highlighters" actually fluoresce under long wave UV light ("blacklights").  Students have fun with that often, as you can see...and it drives the point home.

Sometimes, the artistic impulse appears using these highlighters.

Me?  I'm much more interested, as everyone knows, in bacteria that generate their own light.  That's because I get excited to look in the incubator the morning after plate work with bioluminescent microbes.  Such as this, recently!

For me, it's been pretty challenging to create some #LuxSelfies with bioluminescent bacteria.  Some of my recent work with my "fancy" camera has shown some improvement..  

Here is Olivia.

How about Braith (five second exposures on both sides for that "double image")?

Or Mary?

I thought that Caitlin's "bacteriolight" portrait turned out well.

There is even a quite spooky (Hallowe'en is coming up) Ruth.

Heck, perhaps most frightening of all:  yours truly.

My wife Dr. Jennifer Quinn even painted the outgoing President of the University of Puget Sound, Dr. Ronald Thomas ("RonThom" to his friends).  She is getting good at this, don't you think?

Why not turn this mixture of art and science over to students?  I have been inspired by several sources, including Dr. Simon Park and Dr. Siouxie Wiles, both of whom have long used bioluminescence for artistic purposes.

Siouxie even sponsors a glorious art exhibition in New Zealand using bacterial bioluminescence, as seen here (and Siouxie, I will find a way to visit one year and participate!).

So I decided on the following assignment for my sixteen intrepid micronauts.  I gave each of them sterile paint brushes, a sample of a culture of brightly bioluminescent Photobacterium leignothi, and a large and small Petri dish for their artistic masterpieces.

I have offered prizes to the top six entrants, voted on by the students (and perhaps readers of this blog?).  

Readers:  please feel free to vote in the comments for your top choices, ranked #1 to #6!  I do not know who made what, nor will I vote.  I am letting the students vote.  Wouldn't it be fabulous if readers of this blog voted, too?

Here goes.  I placed the items on a sheet of plexiglas because I appreciate the reflective effect!

Entry #1

Entry #2

Entry #3

Entry #4

Entry #5

Entry #6

Entry #7

Entry #8

Incidentally, the artist for Entry #8 wanted me to add:  "I tried to write 細菌, pronounced "saikin," which is a Japanese word for "bacteria."

Entry #9

Entry #10

Entry #11

Entry #12

Entry #13

Entry #14

Entry #15

Entry #16

Entry #17

Entry #18

Entry #19

Entry #20

Entry #21

Entry #22

Entry #23

Entry #24

Entry #25

Entry #26

Entry #27

Entry #28

Entry #29

Entry #30

I'm very proud of all of the contributors---these micronauts continue to be tolerant of my crazy approaches and enthusiasms.  I will probably suggest this project again at the end of the course, because this was quite a new medium to the students involved.  I appreciated their good humor and enthusiasm.  And they seem quite excited about the prospects of a prizes!

I just need to be able to afford the really big plates for this kind of project, like Siouxie Wiles used in the video linked above.

Voting will end on midnight (PDT) 5 October.  Aren't these creative students?  This is why I enjoy teaching undergraduates at small liberal arts institutions like my own!


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

My First Attempt at Promoting Microbial LIteracy Via Video: μ-Tube!

The new semester is here!  Whew!  Lots to juggle with my two classes, but I am having fun swimming upstream so far.

My wife Jennifer Quinn, mathematician, artist, and muse, has been telling me that we should create short videos to promote MicrobialLiteracy™and MicrobialSupremacy™together.  There is sadly quite an energy of reaction necessary to get me doing new things these days, but Jenny prodded me efficiently.  And quite sweetly.  She sees great potential in me, apparently.

I thought a nice place to start would be to ask my new Microbiology students (mostly Juniors and Seniors) to tell me what they thought of when I said the word "microbiology."  I posed the question on the very first day of class, and I recorded their answers on my iPhone.  I then pulled up some great art from former students and friends, and Jenny and yours truly storyboarded. 

Here is our first u-Tube video---"M-TV" if the "M" stands for "micro"?  

I can't wait to learn how my students' opinions change during the semester.  

Let me add one further thing about the video (and thanks to the wonderful science artist Michele Banks for bringing this up with me via e-mail; you should buy her art, by the way).  One of my major worries about microbiology is how the public perceives microbes, often due to sensationalistic "news" stories.  

Many people reflexively and negatively focus on microbes as causing disease or being "gross," and thus always a topic for disgust or revulsion.  Recently, with all the work on the human microbiome, there are some people who tend to view microbes as not simply benign, but almost "magical" in their impact (microbiologist Jonathan Eisen even has a category titled "Overselling the Microbiome Award" on his blog).  I tend to think of both of these categories---angels and devils, in a way--- as not representing the vast, vast majority populations of microbes that are completely indifferent to us.  Plus, I wanted to showcase a student's humorous and skilled artwork (Kyle Kolisch).

Jenny and I have plans to produce one of these short videos every two weeks, on various aspects of MattersMicrobial™.

Thanks to Jenny, Megan Hatasaka, Kyle Kolisch, and Kaitlin Reiss for wonderful artwork and humor.  And to Michele, again, for the comment.

Please stay tuned to u-Tube!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

"Never Really Alone" with Rob Dunn

The summer is sprinting away, leaving me behind!  Tomorrow, the 31st of August, is the first day of classes for Fall 2015 at the University of Puget Sound.


This semester, as I have been discussing in prior posts, I will be teaching Microbiology to 16 hopefully avid "Micronauts" (juniors and seniors).  In addition, I will be teaching a freshman writing course revolving around ideas in symbiosis and parasitism, which I call "Never Really Alone."  Here is the course description.

Last Fall---the first time I taught SSI-165A---we had quite a wonderful class, and were fortunate to have a number of leading experts in the study of symbioses and parasitism "televisit" my classroom.  My previous posts are a testament of the willingness of some awfully famous folk to do "outreach" to my freshmen, and I am quite grateful.

The last of our speakers last Fall was Dr. Rob Dunn of North Carolina State University.  Rob's willingness to chat with my class was a particularly big deal to me, since he is the author of one of the books I use in my course, the compulsively readable "The Wild Life of Our Bodies:  Predators, Parasites, and Partners That Shape Who We Are Today," which is wonderful proof of what I try to teach my freshman:  that we are all walking ecologies!

Rob Dunn studies a dizzying array of systems, and has brought together quite a group of researchers to investigate them, as a look at his  blog website and laboratory website amply demonstrate:  belly button microbes, ants in unusual places, tracking housecats, life in the dust of our homes, microbial components in beer, heartbeats...and the small mites that live on our faces.  

Biodiversity everywhere!

One of the things that Dr. Dunn and his coworkers have studied recently are those fascinating and odd Demodex face mites that we all have.

As you might expect, this topic gained a lot of interest.  Not only did the Dunn lab find that we all carry these tiny passengers on our very faces, but that there is more than one species resident!

Ed Yong wrote a wonderful summary of some of the work that Rob Dunn and coworkers have carried out.  We are truly never alone!

As in previous "televisits," I had my freshmen students read some of the work of Rob Dunn, and come up with questions that I sent to him. Then, Dr. Dunn visited our class via "Google Hangouts" and discussed those questions with my class.  The students, and yours truly, were very, very lucky.  Here is that visit.

It is no secret that I adore having students explore science using nontraditional, even artistic, approaches.  One young woman in our class made some plastic models of Demodex, as you can see below.

One of the questions that seemed to interest/concern my students about Demodex is how they spread from person to person.  At one point, Dr. Dunn suggested that they might fly through the air like dust motes.  This inspired the young woman in class to try to represent a paratrooping Demodex!

It was a truly memorable session, and a wonderful speaker and topic to finish up that series.  As before, my students created a "thank you" poster for Dr. Dunn.

And the artistic friend of one of our students created a sketch of Rob Dunn to commemorate the visit.

So in all, I really enjoyed teaching "Never Really Alone," and the "televisiting" speakers remain a big reason.  The students agreed.  I hope that, if nothing else, I gave them an appreciate of the "wild life" that make each of them into walking ecologies!

Many, many thanks to Rob Dunn and the other visiting speakers: Jack Gilbert, Ed Yong, Margaret McFall-Ngai, and Seth Bordenstein. 

Tomorrow, I begin teaching the course again to a new crop of freshmen---I wonder whom I will be able to coax into televisiting to bring new ideas to these wonderful freshmen?  And to increase my own sense of wonder as well, of course.

Teaching science is a very, very satisfying profession with classes like my own.

Onward to the new semester!