Announcing the 2021 American Society for Microbiology Agar Art Contest!

This is a guest post from Dr. Geoff Hunt, Public Outreach Specialist at the American Society for MicrobiologyYou can find him on Twitter at @TheGeoffHunt.

It’s that time of year again! The American Society for Microbiology’s world-famous Agar Art contest is now up and running, and we want you (and your students) to submit!

First, a little background. Scientists have been making science-themed art for centuries, and agar art itself refers to microbes grown (or drawn) into artistic arrangements on agar in a petri dish. A prominent example is Alexander Fleming (discoverer of penicillin), who is considered one of the pioneers of agar art as a discipline. Fleming actually published a short write-up of his agar art technique, and his drawings were a highlight of several scientific conferences. 

Years later, wanting to provide a platform for other aspiring agar artists, ASM launched the Agar Art contest in 2015. An immediate hit, the contest generated an overwhelmingly positive response that has continued in the years since, transforming the Agar Art contest into a global phenomenon. Since that first contest, we have received over 1200 submissions from nearly 1000 artists located in 73 different countries. Entries run the gamut from original creations to reproductions of photos and drawings to recreations of famous works of art (such as Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”). The virtuosity and artistic creativity demonstrated by the submitting bioartists is simply stunning.

Beyond the artistic side of things, the Agar Art contest is one ASM’s primary efforts to bring
science to a broader, more public audience and expose them to microbiology. Agar art is an
entertaining, straightforward way for anyone to learn about how microbes grow. Teachers have
used agar art as a method for teaching microbiology in their classrooms, bridging of science and
art in an accessible, hands-on way. We are excited to once again partner with Edvotek to present
their do-it-yourself Agar Art kit, which includes reagents and instructional curricula that have
been used by teachers and scientists alike.

For this year’s contest, we have several options for submitting. Students under the age of 13 can
use the “Kids” category, allowing them to compete against their peers. Older students can submit
to the “Non-Professional” category, which is dedicated for bioartists of any age who don’t have
regular access to lab space. We partner with several community biolabs around the world to
sponsor individual Agar Art workshops. You can find a list of upcoming workshops (or apply to
host your own) on our website.

Contest submissions are being accepted until October 22, and teachers can submit on behalf of
their students. Winners (who are judged by a diverse panel of scientists and artists) are eligible to
win up to $100 in prizes. Want more inspiration? Check out what some of our past participants
have to say about why they submitted:

I hope you will consider submitting or encouraging your students to submit. I’m happy to answer
any questions you might have. Let’s get creative!

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