These last two months have seen quite a bit of experimentation and marveling at the varieties of life that can be found under the microscope. It began with the finding of a standing water pond environment, and has culminated in a month long pond Ph experiment that is still running! While we were looking at the science of life, we couldn’t help but allow ourselves to be drawn into the artistic side of it too.
I had seen the collision of science and art before, most recently when I read this article about cultures of phosphorescence E. coli that had been grown to resemble distant galaxies. It seemed so fitting to present art where the structures of the very small are so fantastically similar to the structures of the impossibly large. I had heard about making art in bacteria cultures before, and really wanted to try it out myself!
Thankfully, I had already acquired a fantastic bacteria growth kit which included dozens of petri dishes, pipettes, test tubes, transfer tubes, and a large amount of agar. Unfortunately, the petri dishes went to insect collections , the pipettes went to park science lessons, and the agar, well the agar turned into something else entirely.
So, we went out to find something more suitable for a first-time culture experiment. We found a great kit in the dollar bin at Target, that contained two petri dishes, forceps, and enough agar for six experiments! I’ve seen them at Target many times since, but if you can’t find them there, you can find them cheaply online.
The instructions for preparing the agar are very simple, similar to the preparation of Jell-O. Once you pour the agar solution into your petri dish, cover it, and let it cool in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. Then, take a cotton swab, and swab a surface around your house. It could be from a doorknob, your bathtub, kitchen sink, toilet, keyboard, etc. We used my daughter’s face! She thoroughly washed her hands, then took a finger and slid it down the side of her nose. Then she lightly traced a line with that finger on top of the agar.
I put the petri dish is a closet, where it was able to thrive in dark and warm conditions. After only one week, the bacteria that had been on Kat’s face had grown to be something visible, neat, and disgusting! The hairy part on the right is mold, the yellowish colony in the middle is the bacteria!
As cool as that experiment was, it didn’t resemble the artistic E. coli installation anywhere near as much as I had hoped. For that, we will have to try again and experiment with different methods of streaking bacteria as well as complete sterilization of our petri dish. We’ll be getting some more growth kits, and then my house will be filled with colonies of growing bacteria! Or, perhaps just the upper shelf of my closet.
At this time, we were still monitoring our wall fountain every day and learning about the organisms that inhabit it. While examining the life there, and looking at the bacteria from Kat’s face under the microscope, I was suddenly struck by inspiration. We could bring the beauty that we see under the microscope to the larger lens of canvas! Determined to combine my two loves of science and art, we quickly set to work.
With the first painting, I wanted to accurately represent what we were seeing under the microscope. Every organism in this painting is what we actually saw from the samples collected in the stagnant water environment. There are algae, bacteria, spirilla, ciliates, a diatom, and two as of yet unidentified specimens. Liberties were taken in this painting to include all of the organisms seen over the course of our monitoring, and I used different colors to bring them to life.
After I had finished our water ecosystem slide painting, I wanted to move on to something more adventurous. I really wanted to capture the beauty that I was seeing along with the fun of finding new things to look at. I have not seen all of the organisms that I painted here, but I sure would love to!
The amoeba, diatom, protozoa, and paramecium were really fun to paint! This is one of my favorite paintings that I’ve ever done, because I think it really does capture just how fun it is to find new things to look at under the microscope! This one is going to get framed, now I just have to find the perfect place in the house to put it!
Kat and I are still looking at things under the microscope, our Ph experiment is still running strong, and we’re still looking to discover new things about the world around us. I don’t imagine that we’ll ever stop having fun with our learning, and it’s nice that we also have the tools to bring that exciting energy to life!