Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Beautiful Bacteria, Visual Viruses, Fascinating Fungi!

Microbiology and Art
Saturday 22 October – 10 November
11am – 5pm
Cost & Booking: Free. No need to book. Drop in anytime.

Looking up at the celestial night sky or at Hubble telescope images of the universe around us, the connection between astronomy and beauty is unquestionable.
But other fields of science don’t have such a ready connection between their research subjects and beauty. Take, for example, microbiology. The study of bacteria, viruses, and fungi likely makes most people think, “Germs! Get them off me!” rather than “Ooh, that’s lovely…”

Joanna Verran, though, is out to change all that. For the 2011 Manchester Science Festival , Joanna has put together an exhibit of artwork inspired by and featuring microorganisms and infectious diseases.

After all, many microorganisms are beneficial to us, and gorgeous as well!

Manchester Science Festival blogger Nija Dalal got on the phone with Joanna, to discuss this exciting and intriguing exhibit that brings together science and art.

First off, can you describe what the event will be about?
The exhibit will demonstrate the links between science and art, specifically microbiology. The artworks were produced by science undergraduate students and citizen-scientists to illustrate the often unrecognized connections between art and science

And what exactly is microbiology?
Microbiology is the study of microorganisms, the tiny living things like bacteria, virii, fungi. They are incredibly small, and have to be seen through a microscope.

Microbes can be very beautiful and very important… and there are more of them than anything else on the planet! And they’re not all there just to make us ill—many of them play the important role of breaking things down. If they didn’t exist, we’d be over our heads in rubbish on this planet!

Did you know there are 10 times more microbial cells in and on the human body than there are human cells?

That’s amazing! I knew there were a lot, but that’s astounding! What kind of artworks can festival goers look forward to seeing at the exhibit?
There are a lot of exciting artworks being shown. For example, one of my students recreated an X-ray image of a virus using sequins. It’s really beautiful. Another piece is an embroidered quilt about scarlet fever, and it also draws on Little Women, because a character in that book, Beth, dies of scarlet fever.

There are also some fascinating photographs. Overall, the exhibit will be a very visual, very artistic way to engage with science. Hopefully, people will find a new way to think about science and microbiology, because art can help to communicate scientific understanding in an unexpected way.

The exhibit features work by your undergraduate science students and by a group called DIYBIO… What is DIYBIO?
DIYBIO is a Wellcome Trust Funded group, run by MadLab (Manchester Digital Laboratory) and Manchester Metropolitan University. The group exists to encourage citizen-run science. DIYBIO held a competition among their members for artworks that related to microbiology. The winning submissions are in the exhibit.

They’ve developed an interactive microbe map of Manchester, which can show visitors where different microbes were found around the city, mostly probably from people’s hands.

So could it be that people who come to see the exhibit may have unwittingly contributed to it?
Absolutely. You may be seeing your own microbes on that map!

Why did you choose to use academic and amateur work?
Science students tend to get pigeonholed into just doing science work, and this lets them use other talents, brings in different talents and provides a different way of communicating science. For the person looking at the work, it could be a less threatening way of looking at science.

What do you think art offers microbiology? Can art sometimes show things in a clearer way or a more dynamic way?
I think the artworks make people look at science differently, think about the message differently. That can be very interesting.

Do you think art can help people get interested in microbiology?
Yes! Microbiology is a really interesting subject and this gets people to look at it in a way that’s more accessible and helps you to make links you wouldn’t otherwise. You’d never think of the similarity between something like an xray of a virus and a cultural product like sequins, but once you’ve seen the artwork, you can see how beautiful and sparkly the original xray image looks.

I really hope this exhibit inspires people to do and think about science and art as interconnected.

The Manchester Science Festival 2011 presents Microbiology and Art
36-40 Edge St, Manchester, Greater Manchester M4 1, UK
Saturday 22 October – 10 November
11am – 5pm
Cost & Booking: Free. No need to book. Drop in anytime.

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