When Science and Art Combine

Cell_to_CellThe term STEAM may be only a decade old but the powerful chemistry of science and art goes way back. Here are two of our favorite examples that we came across while preparing our latest STEAM kit  Living Art.

In 1837, Charles Darwin presented a collection of specimens from his voyage to John Gould, the curator at the Zoological Society of London. The latter – an ornithologist and artist – identified several birds that had been misidentified as wrens but were, in fact, new finch species. This reclassification in- spired Darwin to investigate the island origin of these finches and to begin to formulate his theory of evolution by natural selection. In turn, Gould helped illustrate and edit the bird section for the book “Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle” along with several other bird monographs and today is known as the English Audubon.


Alexander Fleming is famous for his accidental discovery of penicillin in 1928. After returning from holiday, he found that a fungal contamination in his Petri plates had killed much of the disease-causing bacteria staphylococci. He is less famous for his bacterial paintings which he also created on Petri plates and at one point presented as a small exhibit to the queen of England! It’s speculated that his search for colorful microorgan- isms to use as “paints” may have been the original source of the Penicillium fungus.


The image is “Cell to Cell” by microbiologists Mehmet Berkmen and Maria Peñil. It won the “People’s Choice” award in the American Society of Microbiology’s 2015 Agar Art Contest.


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