CORVALLIS, Ore. – A panel will discuss drug-resistant bacteria from the standpoints of science, art and music from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 15, at the Corvallis Arts Center, 700 S.W. Madison Ave.
Hosted by Oregon State University’s colleges of Science and Liberal Arts, “Superbugs & Antibiotic Resistance: An Interdisciplinary Conversation” will focus on how a Harvard researcher’s “giant petri dish experiment” has inspired artists and helped scientists visualize the evolution of antibiotic resistance in E. coli.
Panelists for the free event include Michael Baym, professor of biomedical informatics at Harvard Medical School; Oregon artist Bets Cole; and composer Dana Reason of the OSU School of Arts and Communication.
Baym will talk about his research along with Cole, who will describe how that work inspired her charcoal drawing, “Evolution of a Superbug/11days 1000x Antibiotic Solution.” After learning about the drawing via a tweet from renowned science writer Ed Yong, Baym purchased it, and it now hangs outside his office.
Coincidentally, last spring Yong spoke at Oregon State as part of SPARK, a yearlong celebration of the interplay between art and science.
“It was very cool that I had created something that inspired someone else to do something so lovely,” Baym said.
Baym’s research had demonstrated how bacteria, as they reproduce across a giant petri dish, mutate over the course of 11 days to withstand antibiotics at 1,000 times the concentration normally used to fight infection.
The third panelist, Reason, will discuss how she is taking data from Baym’s research and converting it into sound. Her hope is to generate a new creative work that both stands alone and prompts insights into the data based on how it translates into sound patterns.
The back story behind Baym’s giant petri dish experiment is an example of how art can spark science. The impetus for the research was the film “Contagion,” which told the story of a deadly viral pandemic.
Baym and collaborators spent six months developing their Microbial Evolution and Growth Arena (MEGA-plate), a novel platform for microbial experimentation beyond the classic petri dish.
Not only has the MEGA-plate proved a highly effective teaching mechanism, the visualization tool has also yielded key insights into the behavior of bacteria.