Scientist Re-Creates Famous Photos Using Bacteria

Melissa Knowles
September 18, 2012

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The art of photography has evolved over the last 200 years from using light-sensitive chemicals on metal plates to printing pictures on paper, and now you probably mainly see digital images on computer screens. Scientist turned photographer Zachary Copfer has come up with an innovative method of displaying images. Instead of printing pictures, he grows them.

The microbiologist uses bacteria to re-create famous images, including the Hubble Space Telescope's pictures of galaxies and historical figures like Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso. Copfer calls his process "bacteriography." He uses a supply of E. coli bacteria and turns it into a fluorescent protein and applies that to a plate. Then he makes a negative of the photo he wants to duplicate by attaching the photo to the bacterial plate and exposing it to radiation.

That's when nature takes over and the culture is allowed to grow into a discernible image that Copfer calls a "bacteriograph." The final step in his process is to put a layer of acrylic and resin over the bacteriograph to coat the image and "fix" it in place. Copfer said his motivation for creating these works was that he was "searching for ways to synthesize the seemingly dichotomous fields of science and art." Copfer catalogs his work on his blog, Science to the Power of Art.

Copfer adds about his new projects, "I believe that the separation of art and science is a misconception shared by many who are unfamiliar with the simple elegance of scientific theories. For me the world of science has always been a beautiful poetic place, more artful than anyplace else I have ever known."

Not a lot of people may be jumping at the chance to work with E. coli bacteria and turn it into art, so it sure is cool to see that someone can develop a new genre of art, and possibly an entire new culture of fans -- pun intended.