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!



  1. 1. 13
    2. 19
    3. 3
    4. 2
    5. 5
    6. 1

    :) they did a great job! Better detail than I ever got!

  2. 1. #14
    2. #13
    3. #8
    4. #19
    5. #3
    6. #1

  3. Awesome work! Portraits are just phenomenal. Anyone up for painting me a "Mostly Microbes" image for my site? Would love to feature the class in a Friday Feature.
    continue the great work! Anne -

  4. They are all great, but with our level of Disney there is an obvious bias !
    1) 23
    2). 19
    3). 1
    4). 5
    5). 3
    6). 2

  5. 22

    They are all really wonderful

  6. All were great!
    1). 22
    2). 19
    3). 1
    4). 5
    5). 3
    6). 2

  7. Oopssss. Sorry. I may have posted it 5 times as a blog novice. Apologies


I am happy to hear your comments and suggestions. I hope to avoid spammage. We shall see how that works out!