Star Wars Outreach at Cal Academy

Science fiction is often a great source of inspiration for scientists and for the general public. When an out-of-this world science fiction themed event happens in a real-world science museum, that means a must-go event for humans, robots, androids, etc.

On Dec 1, 2016, the California Academy of Sciences held its weekly NightLife event with the theme Star Wars, referencing the upcoming new movie of the saga. Our BMSIS Research Scientist, Dr. Ivan Glaucio Paulino Lima was invited to do a table presentation and talk about his research at Dr. Lynn Rothschild’s lab at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA. Trevor Kalkus and Jesica Navarrete, also from Dr. Rothschild’s lab, were onboard talking about their projects on biomining, microfluids, bioballon, etc.

The team displayed a BioArt made by Trevor in Petri dishes with Escherichia coli colonies containing fluorescent proteins inoculated in the shape of characters of the Star Wars series. The result was a red fluorescent Darth Vader and a green fluorescent Yoda! They also showed samples of E. coli cultures with chromogenic proteins, and a few specimens of living extremophiles, including: (i) the bacterium Deinococcus radiodurans, (ii) the cyanobacterium Anabaena sp., (iii) a new bacterial strain recently isolated from the Sonoran desert in Arizona called Geodermatophilus sp., and (iv) the world-famous water bears, also known as tardigrades (Hypsibius dujardini, a common species of tardigrade), which literally had all the spotlights (they used a portable microscope with a spotlight to project a live video of the water bear onto a big screen).

The interaction with the public was amazing! People saw the glowing jellyfishes in the aquarium downstairs and then came up to our booth to see our E. coli strains genetically engineered with the gene that code for the fluorescent proteins! Many people were thrilled to hear about extremophiles, genetic engineering and synthetic biology for the first time, and how it will help humanity to settle on Mars and beyond.

This is a very rewarding part of being a scientist because you get access to people’s feelings about science and their view about the future of humanity. This is also a very timely opportunity to clarify basic scientific principles and processes that represent the engines of the real world.