“Magnficient Microbes” Kids program
Each July, from 2014-16, I held “Magnificent Microbes” kids summer microbiology programs. We met for one week to seek out microbes from a pond, the woods, hot spots on the UConn campus created by underground steam pipes, and samples from kitchens.
Mark Twain’s 3,000 Years Among the Microbes
In 1905 Mark Twain began writing a story he called “3,000 Years Among the Microbes.” He never finished the story, but he told his publisher “I am deep in a new book which I enjoy more than I have enjoyed any other for twenty years and I hope it will take me the entire summer to write it.” His story created a world of microbes who called themselves Sooflaskies. To imagine this world, Twain turned to a popular science book of his day, “The Story of Germ Life. This book was published in 1898 by Herbert W. Conn, a professor of Biology at Wesleyan University. H. W. Conn was also at the time in charge of bacteriological research at the Storrs School Agricultural Experiment Station on the campus of the Storrs Agricultural School (now the University of Connecticut). In December 2010 I worked with freshmen Honors students on an exhibit about the convergence of these two men in Twain’s work. This exhibit was displayed in the Homer Babbidge Library at UConn. The exhibit included examples of Conn’s books (including “The Story of Germ Life”), quotes from Mark Twain, examples of Conn’s dairy microbiology research reports, descriptions of the lives of two men, and slides with photographs and newspaper clippings from their times.
The National Science Foundation’s Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI) program funded a project at UConn from 2012-2016 to create very small microfluidic devices that mimic the guts of termites to allow investigators to study how the microbes that live there communicate with one another. The project team also studied how microbes and the termite’s cells communicate with one another in living termites.