Painting and Printing with Bacterial Pigments

by Katayoun Chamany
SENCER Leadership Fellow
Mohn Family Professor of Natural Sciences and Math
Eugene Lang College for Liberal Arts

Photos taken by Clarence Elie Rivera (photographer), Luciana Scrutchen (faculty member), and Eliza–Kamerling Brown (student)

Over the last four years I have developed in collaboration with our lab manager and faculty in Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts and Parsons School of Design a portable lab module titled Painting and Printing with Bacterial Pigments. This curriculum project is designed to offer science learning to students across the university, emphasizing the ecosystem dynamics as well as the relationships between genes and environment. This module has been implemented in variety of courses spanning first year seminars, textile studio, and monthly workshops open to all university students.

Student lab assistants are prepping the bacterial cultures (photo 1 and 1.5)  to be used in the first-year course Biology, Art and Social Justice (photo2), other liberal arts courses such as Skin, Bacteria, Excrement: BioArt and Human Culture, and the monthly Science + Art + Design Lab Workshops (photo3). Students view the results of their painting on growth media (photo 4) and transfer the pigment to paper or fabric (photos 5-8). Because of their interests in sustainable design, students in the textile studio course explore how bacterial pigments can be used to color fabrics using less water and heat and no toxic metals, as well as how to amplify the effect of their print patterns using stamping, digitization, and other methods (photo 9-10). A video of the process was captured during a lab workshop open to university students and the public during our co-sponsored annual Imagine Science Film Festival and can be seen below.

The incorporation of labs that introduce science learning through the art and design process have influenced students’ choices of majors, with 50% of our Interdisciplinary Science Majors having completed the first-year seminar Biology, Art and Social Justice. Additionally, implementation of this lab in existing courses, has increased attendance to the monthly workshops that introduce other labs and topics, and has resulted in independent student projects in the School of Fashion that consider a number of variables such as sugar source, time, and temperature and its effect on the fabric dying and pattern making. Most importantly, students are able to make social justice connections using the technique to construct projects that compare and contrast bacterial colonization with settler colonialism and environmental justice issues that disproportionately affect marginalized populations. Lastly, the collaboration led to a joint abstract submission and faculty research presentation at the Shibori Symposium in Oaxaca, Mexico (Photo 11).

Posted in Biology, eNews, Genetics, SENCER News.