Science can be beautiful

TRU professor of microbiology hosts art exhibit to show the beauty of bacteria

This 2D representation of cave bacteria in the colonies they live in will also be at the exhibit. Image courtesy Jon Fulton

This 2D representation of cave bacteria in the colonies they live in, created by Louanne Mah, will also be at the exhibit. Image provided by Jon Fulton

Communication is one of the most difficult challenges faced by scientists. Explaining highly technical research to people who don’t have a scientific background is not only very challenging, but vital to the continued support of research being done.

Naowarat Cheeptham is a professor of microbiology at Thompson Rivers University and is currently researching cave microbials in an effort to find new bacteria with anti-microbial properties that could be used in future vaccines.

“As a scientist I’m responsible for communicating at different levels, so I thought, how can I show people that not all bacteria are bad,” Cheeptham said. “I want to communicate to a larger audience about the work that I do and how it’s relevant. Art is this vessel of communication that allows me to reach that.”

The collaboration of art and science may seem strange to some, but to Cheeptham it is a natural extension of the research they are doing.

“Over the year I have collected lots of scanning electron micrographs, and they are so beautiful,” Cheeptham said. “Today we label people, if you’re a scientist you’re a scientist, if you’re an artist you’re an artist, but our brains have two sides, scientist and artist, I want to show my students that it’s OK to explore.”

The exhibit has artwork by students, a poem by a TRU faculty member, and pieces by an artist from Victoria.

The exhibit will feature pottery that has been inspired by the cave bacteria in Cheeptham's research. Image courtesy Nancy Van Wagoner

The exhibit will feature pottery that has been inspired by the cave bacteria in Cheeptham’s research. Image courtesy Nancy Van Wagoner

“Each of them would get inspired by these scanning electron micrographs and produce visual art in different forms,” Cheeptham said. “The main goal of this is to communicate about cave microbial research we do at TRU to public sectors.”

Cheeptham believes that this art exhibit will have real implications for her classes at TRU as an added benefit.

“I’m foreseeing that if I have this project, hopefully I can make students more engaged, I want to make my microbiology courses that I teach relevant to them,” Cheeptham said. “I can make them see through this that it actually is relevant, that being a scientist can actually have an impact on their lives

The opening reception for the exhibit is Jan. 17 at 6:30 p.m. at the Kamloops Art Gallery. The exhibit will be there until March 22.

Cheeptham plans on holding the exhibit for the next three years and is currently looking for anyone interested in participating for next year.