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!