Public Engagement at ASM Microbe 2023
Exploring the Science of Food at “Micro Bazaar”On June 14, 2023, ASM partnered with Taste of Science-Houston for “Micro Bazaar,” an interactive exploration of the microbiology of food held at the Saint Arnold Brewing Company. The event included 5 separate stations, each featuring experts sharing how microbes affect their work:
- Brewer Drew Russey, laboratory manager at Saint Arnold, led attendees through a tasty examination of the fermentation of beer.
- Staff from local Houston institution The Health Museum gave attendees a hands-on opportunity to explore the role of pre- and pro-biotics.
- Vickie Kloeris of the Institute of Food Technologists showed off different types of food being used by the astronauts on the International Space Station and explained how NASA works with microbiologists to keep food supplies free from contamination.
- Rutgers University faculty member, Santiago Cuesta explained the ins and outs of the human gut microbiome.
- University of Houston professor, Abdul Khan and his students focused on plant microbiomes and how they are being impacted by climate change.
Participants were able to engage with the presenters and explore the stations at their own pace.
"We are glad ASM reached out to collaborate with us on the event and give us their expertise in planning something larger for the community,” said Jason Luong, President of Taste of Science-Houston. “We had a great turnout for the event and hope to work with ASM again in the future!”
All Hands on Deck for a “Day of Science”
This year’s signature public event was the “Day of Science,” an interactive science festival hosted on June 17, 2023 at Lott Hall in Hermann Park. With more than a dozen stations spread across 3 rooms, attendees could choose from a plethora of activities.
- ASM member Tasha Sturm (and several dedicated volunteers) led a literal hands-on activity: making agar art handprints.
- Microbiology students from local Houston universities helped attendees create their own works of agar art, working with supplies graciously donated by ASM’s partners at Edvotek.
- Local ASM members Jorge Cervantes and Bo-Young Hong led a demonstration of how to use hand-made foldscopes to view microscopic samples.
- Student member Shruthi Aravindan walked attendees through the dental microbiome.
Attendees also got to explore their microbiology identities.
- Longtime ASM outreach leader Dave Westenberg led an interactive microbe-themed card game, “Which Microbe Are You?”
- Amy Reese, chair of the ASM Subcommittee on the Status of Women in Microbiology, organized an exhibit displaying portraits of leaders from different backgrounds and scientific fields.
The “Day of Science” also featured several activities from additional STEAM fields.
- The team at BrainSTEM, a program based at Rice University, gave attendees the chance to learn about neuroscience.
- Members of the Rice Physics Outreach Program (RicePOP) presented several interactive physics demos.
- ASM’s partner Hardy Diagnostics hosted a science-themed coloring book contest for attendees.
- Attendees hunted for fossils with staff from the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences.
- Staff from the Children’s Museum Houston took participants through an exploration of different types of bugs.
- The Houston Humane Society gave attendees a taste of animal science.
- Scientists associated with the NASA Johnson Space Center brought lunar samples.
- The team from The Health Museum had an interactive (and occasionally messy) exploration of the human microbiome.
Feedback from attendees was overwhelmingly positive: more than 90% of those polled said they would be likely or very likely to attend a similar event in the future. One attendee recalled, “My 8-year-old who loves science walked out of the event exclaiming, ‘That was amazing!’ He asked if we could go every year.” Added another, “The quality of demonstrations, generosity of the take-home treasures and variety of activities [were] exceptional.”
SciArt on DisplayThe week of festivities wrapped up on June 18, 2023 with “MicroArt on Display,” a science-themed art exhibit held at the Midtown Arts and Theater Center Houston. Co-organized with the ASM Graduate Student and Postdoc Chapter located at the Texas Medical Center (ASM-TMC), this event continued ASM’s ongoing series of presenting live events showcasing the intersection of art and science.
More than 50 images selected from the ASM-TMC 2023 MicroArt Image contest were displayed, alongside several past entries to ASM’s annual Agar Art Contest. Attendees got the chance to interact with several of the featured artists and vote on their favorite works of art.
The event “was a perfect way to end the 2023 ASM Microbe meeting,” exclaimed Heidi B. Kaplan, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. “It was truly epic!”
More to Come in 2024
Given the great feedback ASM got from participants in this year’s events, we are exploring ways to continue hosting similar events in Houston. We’re also in the process of planning public-facing activities for ASM Microbe 2024 in Atlanta. Hopefully we will see you there!