Thursday, November 17, 2016

Microbial Awards Season in Biology 350!

I have been called a Microbial Supremacist™ more than once.  I cannot deny it; in fact I enthusiastically embrace the description.  I wrote about that path here.

The fact is, microbiology can get a bad name in our "low information" culture (oh, no---"culture," ha ha).  So I have long believed that #MicrobialPR is an important part of my job.

Thus, the Fall semester of each year here at the University of Puget Sound is a special time for me, filled with Overwhelming Microbial Goodness (#OMG™) to share with my intrepid and hard working micronauts taking Biology 350 here in Tacoma.

Each year, with the help of science artist Kaitlin Reiss, I create a "logo" for my microbiology course.  Here is the image for this year, with a Snoop Dogg vibe, I cheerfully admit.

I get my micronauts buttons and T-shirts with the design.  I think they like it, and it bonds us together into a cooperative and convivial quorum.

Who knows if I can change lives?  I do know that I can change the way my students view the world, using "microbial-colored glasses." 

I also believe that art can intersect with science, often in ways that enhance learning.  This semester, I had my Biology 350 micronauts try it two different ways, with (hopefully) some success.

First, the Vexed Muddler and I cooked up a #MicrobialArt competition.  The goal was to have students come up with microbially themed artwork.  Here is what Peggy wrote in her instructions to my micronauts:
Microbial comic contest! 

Make it funny, action-packed, educational, or full of drama - you're in charge. Bacteria with bulging biceps, dewy-eyed anime fungi, and stick-figure phages are equally welcome. The three comics that impress me the most will be awarded awesome prizes, and there's a bonus for all participants, so get doodling!

Everything in life has rules:

1. Your comic can have any number of panels, but it must be legible and fit on one side of a single sheet of 8.5"X11" paper. Points docked for going over!

2. Your comic will NOT be judged on artistic merit, but if I can't tell what anything is, it will be hard to appreciate, so try to make it as clear as you can!

3. Must have something to do with microbiology (duh). 

4. Must be original content - I know all the best microbial comics on the internet, so make sure yours is original!

5. Digital entries are accepted, but the print size of the image must be within the size limit. 

There were a number of entrants, and Peggy selected her favorites, also giving some words of praise and feedback to go along with some awesome Vexed Muddler #MicrobialSwag.

Anne won Third Place with her submission of a pop-art way to view horizontal gene transfer.

Here is Ann accepting her award of a sweet "microbial juvenile delinquents" pencil case.

Juniper's submission won Second Prize and depicts some of the "recycling" aspects of Type VI secretion system "warfare."

And Juniper seems quite happy with her #TardigradeToteBag.

Finally, Josh's art won the coveted First Prize, showing unfair and inaccurate assumptions we make about the microbial world versus our own macroscopic world.

Josh proudly holds the Vexed Muddler designed "Microbial Creation" coffee mug.

That was a heck of a #MicrobialMorning, but there was more to come.  That's right:  it was then time for the #LuxAcademyAwards! Earlier this semester, I had students create "microbial art" by "painting" with luminous bacteria (Photobacterium leignothi) on Petri dishes.  I then wanted folks across the Internet to vote on their favorites, and distribute yet more #MicrobialSwag to lucky #MicrobialArtists!

The most challenging (and frustrating) part was finding a way to tabulate votes!  But I did it!  So here are the results---I adore the #MicrobialCreativity!

I found "glowstick" lollipops to set the mood in class as we began our awards ceremony.

Carly created our #LuxArt2016 7th Place winner!  "Who Runs the World," indeed.  Of course the answer is "microbes"!

Here is a video of Carly receiving her #MicrobialSwag:

Erin created our #LuxArt2016 6th Place winner!  It kind of has a Van Gogh vibe that appeals to me.

Here is a video of Erin receiving her #MicrobialSwag::

Jesse created our #LuxArt2016 5th Place winner!  It was pretty meta to have a painting of a bioluminescent organism using bioluminescent organisms, right?

Here is a video of Jesse receiving her very appropriate (see the blinking plush toy?)  #MicrobialSwag:

Molly created our #LuxArt2016 4th Place winner.  Quite intricate!

Here is a video of Molly receiving her #MicrobialSwag:

Anne created our #LuxArt2016 3rd Place winner.  It's very appropriate to our host institution, the University of Puget Sound, as you can see.

Here is a video of Anne receiving her #MicrobialSwag: a hungry mascot:

Mara was our #LuxArt2016 2nd Place winner!  From my point of view, you cannot go wrong with a tardigrade theme.  A lot of voters agreed.

Here is a video of Mara receiving her #MicrobialSwag:  a tiny tardigrade toy, and a plush STD.  Hmmm.

Finally, Juniper is our #LuxArt2016 1st Place winner!  The intricate nature and care with which she drew Daphnia and Volvox impressed many voters.

Here is a video of Juniper receiving her #MicrobialSwag, which is a Vexed Muddler #MicrobialPillow!

I am sad to report that there was no tres coolio  #MicrobialAfterparty with many celebrities and the media snapping photos.  

Instead, it was time to get back to discussing how microbial ecology relates to the human microbiota!

I really enjoy the intersection between microbiology and art, and I like to think my micronauts do as well.  I find that students deeply think about the topics they depict artistically, or the medium (ha!) that they are using.

I hope you enjoyed the efforts of my micronauts, as well!  

Yes, I enjoy teaching #MicrobialSupremacy!  And I think that Peggy Muddles captured the "real" me with this #MicrobialPortrait.

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