Communicable Biology

Once a year or so, I have a biology student who’s a great photographer or illustrator. We talk about scientific photography or scientific illustration as a career path, but I haven’t been able to offer much beyond that. Well, now I can. A colleague just turned me on to this organization, the BioCommunications Association (

From their website:

A typical BCA member is a dedicated, passionate, creative and technical biological/medical photographer, graphic designer, illustrator or videographer employed by hospitals, medical facilities, colleges, universities and research institutions in the life sciences and health care industry.

They offer an education grant: The fund has awarded grants to applicants from several countries for a wide variety of projects such as preparation for certification, attendance at workshops, photographic exhibit support, and the development of new imaging techniques for the microscope. Awards are limited to no more than 33% of available funds for the year and are typically $500 or less. and Any student, trainee, biocommunicator, or institutional program that can demonstrate a need for project funding may apply. So, it’s only $500, but its something.

They also offer a scholarship to support educational opportunities for full-time undergraduate or graduate student pursuing a career in scientific/biomedical visual communications, at an accredited school.

Additionally, they run an annual BioImages competition. Check out their amazing winners gallery here: Be sure to scroll down for the videos!

Last but not least, check out their nicely curated list of links. They include links to academic programs, inspirations and stock images. Maybe I’ll be inspired to branch out from WikiMedia Images.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. A bacteria that causes infections and is one that is resistant to many antibiotics.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. A bacteria that causes infections and is one that is resistant to many antibiotics.



I’ve got my ion you, baby.

When you think about music videos, you’re reminded of Orgo class, right? Dr. Neil Garg ( at UCLA has a  very popular Organic Chemistry class that includes a very popular extra-credit music video assignment. Students create ringtones, too. Despite the reasonable final exam mean of 72% last semester, the class fills to capacity (


Music with Science, Evolucio Radio (Marco A. Diaz)

Students are unable to get the catchy rhymes about reactions out of their heads, and they’re likely to remember these aspects of Organic for the rest of their lives. Lyrics are memorable because music is a multi-sensory stimulus that includes rhythm, rhyme, alliteration and melody. It also has emotional and personal components that reinforce long-term recall (  Students learn about teamwork – a workforce preparedness goal, animation, and audio and video editing. Hop over to YouTube and boogie to even more awesome chemistry tunes.

Virtual STEAM

The field of scientific visualization represents an authentic connection between the arts/design and the STEM disciplines.  Daniel Keefe ( and David Laidlaw (  recently reported on what they’ve learned through the their teaching in the field of Virtual Reality ( VR is advanced visualization technology that has broad appeal for undergraduates of all disciplines.

Stenger with VPL gear. Nicole Stenger is a French-born, American artist and pioneer in Virtual Reality

Nicole Stenger with VPL gear. Stenger is a French-born, American artist and pioneer in Virtual Reality.

The authors discovered that when art and STEM students worked together on Virtual Reality data visualization projects, they each began to develop some expertise in the other’s discipline. This exploration improved cross-disciplinary communication, facilitating the collaboration.

The authors incorporated important elements of art classes into their teaching. For one, they used a critique-style discussion of work-in-progress. Scientists knowledgeable about the data joined in. They found these classroom critiques so useful that they brought this teaching/learning technique into other computer science courses. (I could see how art-style classroom critique could be useful in other STEM courses as well.) Both groups of students faced the additional challenge of effective communication with the scientists whose research they were representing. In life-after-university, this third party could represent a client or additional collaborator.

They also emphasized the importance of “sketching” prior to programming. Sketching took various forms including paper & pencil, a series of concept sketches using Adobe Illustrator, acting out possible user experiences, short films, sculptures, and prototyping in the CavePainting virtual reality system. Data display environments help to align sketches with the reality of the data.

This paper causes me to reflect on my own teaching and on the importance of reflection for learning. It’s important to slow down, develop lots of ideas, get lots of feedback, and learn how to understand each other.

The paper described here was published in the refereed proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality 2013 which was held as part of the 15th International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction.

Me too!

The idea of STEAM has broad appeal.  So broad, in fact, that lots of other disciplines seem to want in too.

Check out this list of acronyms.  Why does the field of education have so many acronyms?!

STREAM brings in Language Arts in form of  “wRiting” or Reading ( But weren’t reading and writing essential components of the practice of science anyway? Perhaps they aren’t always included in K12 STEM, but they certainly should be.

Then there’s ST2REAM.  ST2REAM includes reading/language arts again, plus thematic instruction ( I kind of like the idea of thematic instruction, but I’m concerned that if we add any more angles the science will get diluted. Thematic courses may be a good fit for Interdisciplinary Studies departments.

STEAMIE incorporates “Include Everyone” ( Inclusion is good.

STEMM specifies medicine ( Lots of K12 school districts across the United States have STEMM programs, and the federal government seems to be using this term in some cases.

In STEMSS the second (or first?) S stands for Social Studies ( Did you know that there’s a society for the social studies of science?  Interesting stuff, and a somewhat novel combination of disciplines.

Let’s not forget STEAM where A=Architecture ( or SEA,  which now stands for Science, Economics, and Arts (

I’ve also seen STEAME where the E stand for Entertainment, but for the life of me I can’t find a reference for it.

The Genius Of Architecture Rewarding At Once The Science And The Practice Of The Art by William Brodie, located in the Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh

The Genius Of Architecture Rewarding At Once The Science And The Practice Of The Art by William Brodie, located in the Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh (Stefan Schäfer, Lich)

This variety of attempts to join other disciplines with STEM reflects a genuine interest in the zeitgeist in the re-integration of knowledge. I suspect that it also reflects the fact that research funds are extremely tight all over –  if funding isn’t available in your own discipline, maybe you can find it in someone else’s!

South Korean Leadership on STEAM

The Australian Council of Learned Academies, in an effort to build Australia’s STEM workforce and increase international competitiveness, recently commissioned reports on similar efforts in 24 countries, including the Republic of Korea (aka South Korea or Korea) (  – a great resource if you are asked to consider the future of STEM in your own region). This particular report ( was authored by Jae-Eun Jon, Korea University ( and Hae-In Chung, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities (

Banpo Bridge with a rainbow fountain over the Han River in Seoul (Gu Gyobok)

Banpo Bridge with a rainbow fountain over the Han River in Seoul (Gu Gyobok)

Therein they describe the efforts of the Republic of Korea in the area of STEAM. While Korean students have excelled in math and science, and the country has a need for increased numbers of STEM-capable graduates, interest in the STEM disciplines is weak. To remedy this problem and foster creativity, beginning in August 2011 the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology restructured the entire Korean STEM curriculum around the idea of STEAM. The amount of math content was reduced by 20% to allow time for STEAM. There have been many opportunities for associated professional development, and two new STEAM schools for the gifted and talented crowd are scheduled to open by 2016. Additional schools have been selected at STEAM Leader Schools to pilot the full STEAM curriculum, and teacher study groups have been formed. Universities and Colleges of Education are expected to develop curricula that will train future teachers in STEAM and to carry out STEAM research.



Hermann Berghaus, Map of the World in star projection, 1880. This star projection is a special kind of a map projection.

I have readers from more than 35 countries. I’m quite curious about who you are. Are you involved in education? K12 or is it higher ed? Are you a scientist? An engineer? An artist? What brings you to this blog? What are you doing to implement STEAM in your work? This week’s post is about you! I look forward to your responses. (This is also a chance for you to network, so do share!)

Goings On About Town

Today I present a sampling of a few arts integration efforts at universities around the United States. I hope you find them interesting!

Undergraduate and graduate students participate in the Art of Science Competition at Princeton University.

Undergraduates in the School of Education at the College of William and Mary have the opportunity to do their clinicals at the Virgina STEAM Academy (, a public residential school for gifted middle-school and high-school students, set to open in 2014.

In 2012, Palm Beach State College began a 5-yr STEAM initiative with a focus on workforce preparedness. They plan to support STEAM program enhancement and provide scholarships and internships to undergraduates. Their website emphasizes the many STEM resources and programs at the college.

Detail a the roof of the College of Engineering at University of Northern Florida

Detail a the roof of the College of Engineering at University of Northern Florida

The STEAM Journal is published out of Claremont Graduate University. Their inaugural issue was released on-line in March 2013 and included academic papers, lesson plans at the K12 and undergraduate levels, and artwork. The journal is edited by faculty members and a Ph.D. candidate in their School of Education, the Director of their Transdisciplinary Studies Program, and Professor of Art. This journal could provide a venue for STEAM-related efforts, hopefully to include rigorous research, by graduate students and faculty members.