Microbial Culturing

Microbial Culturing

Student Artist: Matthew Leonard
Course: Data Visualization with Lucy HG Solomon
Researcher: Jennifer Kuehl, DOE Joint Genome Institute

Project Description
For this project I wanted to represent some of the experimental data, but I also considered the concepts and design of the experiment as important and wanted to represent those as well. The experiment presented by the researcher involved groups of various microbes interacting with each other and with different mixtures of sugars. These sugars serve as the food source for the microbe populations. The data involved in the project shows the relative abundance of the individual microbe groups, given the specific sugar mix they were provided with.

Representation of Project Data

The project’s data shows the abundance of microbes in each sample.

In the project, I punched metal studs into a Tshirt to represent generally the microbes. Referencing the range of values seen in the column “OD” in the image above, I made two rows of studs, the longer row approximating the largest value, and the shorter row approximating the smallest. I also punched a model of a sugar, Glucose, into the center of the shirt, to represent the use of sugars in the experiment.

Work in Progress

I made use of Wikipedia for reference images while I was working. The two images below are of microbes, specifically bacteria, and the third is the molecular model of the sugar glucose.

Image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microbes

Image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neisseriaceae

Image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glucose


Initially I had envisioned portraying some detailed, physical interaction between microbes, or between a microbe and a sugar molecule. After finding these reference images, however, I decided that microbes were visually simple from the outside perspective and that I would use individual studs to represent them.

After speaking with Jennifer Kuehl, I came to understand that her project explored the dynamics of how a community of microbes grows and develops. Her experiment tracked the types of microbes growing, and their relative amounts, according to variations in the types of sugars provided. Both the sugar types, and the other microbes in the community, theoretically impact how each microbe in the community will reproduce or die. This is because the microbes interact with both the sugar and the other microbes. At this point I decided that I should represent this concept of the experiment in addition to some data.

I decided to show some grouping and hopefully interaction of microbes and sugars on the shirt, and decided to use studs or metal details on the shirt to do this. I wanted the shirt to be wearable and washable, durable. When I referenced images of microbes on wikipedia, I found that microbes are not visibly detailed. In images they match the simple dots of the studs. Due to this, I wasn’t sure how to suggest the interactions between the microbes, so I just portrayed them as a large group. While there is no specific suggestion of their interactions, showing the microbes as separated groups does match the reality of the experiment. Microbes live alongside one another, interacting with individuals, with groups, and with the sugars.

I studded a detailed sugar molecule into the center of the shirt, since sugars play a central role. They were the experimental variable and also the food for the microbes.  I was able to reproduce the glucose model accurately and directly with the studs. For example, the blue studs in the shirt represent oxygen atoms in the glucose molecule.

Project Outcome
The project gives the viewer insight into the experimental factors affecting the microbes, and suggests the existence of layers of interactions. It’s a wearable item that hints at the chaotic and invisible situations where microbes exist and develop.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *