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Announcing the 2015 ASM Agar Art Winners #agarart

The challenge was to create a piece of art using microbes as the paint and agar as the canvas, and ASM members took their plating skills to the limit with their submissions. Congratulations to the winners of the 2015 Agar Art contest! 

2015 Agar Art Winners Gallery

Agar Art Winner 2015 thumb-2 Agar Art Winner 2015 thumb-4 Agar Art Winner 2015 thumb-3 Agar Art Winner 2015 thumb


  • First place: Neurons, submitted by Mehmet Berkmen of New England Biolabs, with artist Maria Penil.
  • Second place: NYC Biome MAP, submitted by Christine Marizzi, an educator at a community lab. This art piece was created as a collaboration between citizen scientists and artists at Genspace: New York City's Community Biolab.
  • Third place: Harvest Season, created by Maria Eugenia Inda, a postdoctoral researcher from Argentina working at Cold Spring Harbor Labs.
  • People's Choice: Cell to Cell, with almost 3,500 likes on the Facebook album. This image was created by the group who won first place, Mehmet Berkmen with artist Maria Penil.


Our esteemed judges, Michele Banks, Jamie Henzy, Vincent Racaniello, Dennis Bray and Penny Chisholm, analyzed all 85 submissions for their creativity, design, and presentation, as well as on the written description - the scientific accuracy and appropriateness for a general audience. 

Artists were encouraged to follow safety guidelines when creating their artwork. 

Interview with Tasha Sturm

ASM interviewed Tasha Sturm, a lab technician at Cabrillo College, who posted her son’s agar art handprint on MicrobeWorld that made a big splash in the news.

 TSturm handprint


1) Can you please tell us about your professional background and what you do currently?

I received my B.A. in Biology with an emphasis in Microbiology/Immunology from Cal State Fullerton in 1992. After that I was in a graduate program at Cal State Fullerton for five years but left before receiving my MA due to lack of program funding. During that time, I taught the undergraduate Microbiology Laboratory for three years and the Immunology Lab for one semester. Later, I worked as a Laboratory Technician at Hatfield Marine Science Center for Dr. Paul Reno through OSU for a year looking at Vibrio infections in salmon. After moving back to Santa Cruz, I worked briefly at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, in the Fisheries Ecology Division Genetics Laboratory looking at microsatellite variation in Salmon. I was then hired as a full time Science Laboratory Technician, specializing in microbiology, in the Biology Department at Cabrillo College where I have been for the last twelve years.

2) What inspired you to stamp your son's hand on an agar plate?

Part of my job is to anticipate the needs of the instructors and students and to make demonstrations relatable to the labs. The first thing lab students do is to swab an item in the classroom, like a cell phone, thumb print, the bottom of their shoe (that is really interesting!), a computer, etc. We incubate the plates and bring them out in the next class period to demonstrate that organisms are everywhere. It is rather eye opening for the students to see a plate full of bacteria after swabbing certain items, such as their cell phone. If I have large plates left over from the previous semester, I will let my kids do a "demo" for me by making a handprint and bring it into the class to show the students. My kids love it and it is a good teaching tool all the way around. We have been doing this for over five years now and it never seems to get old. Once, the plating is done, I do all the photography after work or on the weekends.  My daughter actually did a science experiment in third grade on "Hand Washing vs. Hand Sanitizer" and won first place.

3) Can you tell us what happened after your photo appeared on MicrobeWorld/ASM's Facebook page?

I initially posted the handprint image to Microbeworld and on a Friday it was chosen as image of the day. I noticed that there was a lot of conversation-- more than normal-- concerning the image and I answered several questions. I later received an email from a stranger late Sunday night congratulating me and telling me that my son’s handprint was “famous” after being posted to Reddit and Imgur. I clicked on the link to Imgur that he had provided and saw that the image had been reposted and had over 2 million views- it had gone viral. By Monday morning I had over ten press and image requests from all over the world and when I got to my office I had numerous phone messages from different news agencies. I spent the next week doing phone and email interviews and answering image requests from NBC/The Today Show, ABC, KOIN News, Disney, The Weather Channel, Business Weekly and the Smithsonian. I also had messages from many international news agencies and have seen articles written in every language imaginable. There is also a possibility it will be used in a chapter of a healthcare book. Additionally, several institutions have asked to use the print in education videos for student use. It has been almost two weeks and I am still receiving interview and image release requests. Guess this is the handprint seen around the world!

4) Did you expect such a response?

In no way did I expect this type of response. I see results like this all the time so it’s pretty commonplace for me and my kids, although I did think the handprint was pretty. ASM MicrobeWorld allows microbiologists a unique opportunity to share images, videos and information with the rest of micro community which is why I posted it there, along with other images. It’s fun to read people respond to the images and to give them insight because that is what science is all about. As microbiologists, our job, especially in education, is to make the invisible world visible so it’s easier to understand. I think the image of the handprint was a graphic way to show others what's out there and the beauty of microbiology. I think that is what people were responding to.

5) What do you hope the public will learn from seeing the handprint and the various microbial colonies present on the plate?

I hope the public can learn several things from this image. Firstly, science can be fun and interesting and that is what we try to show the students. I loved my son’s response to the image: “That’s cool!” My daughter then wanted to start “printing” the dog and cat. We have older animals so we had to draw the line at trying to print the dog’s nose but I loved her enthusiasm.   Secondly, everything that was seen on the plate is normal body flora or something that is commonly found in the environment. There was nothing unusual or scary, but it was diverse and, at least in my opinion, beautiful. Thirdly, our immune system protects us and to have a strong immune system we have to be exposed to “life”. Unless you have health issues, (immunocompromised, breaks in the skin, etc) getting dirty is good for you! Fourthly and most importantly, use common sense and wash after using the restroom or before eating.



Call for Entries! ASM's 2015 Agar Art Contest

Submissions are now closed. Congratulations to the winners! For more information, see details below.

What microbial masterpieces can you create? 

Plate your artistry, creating a unique piece of agar art and then add a short description of your piece that engages a broad audience.

Anyone with an active ASM membership is eligible to compete. Winners will receive a free ASM book of their choosing (options here). First place will also receive $85 towards the purchase of Michele Banks' scientific artwork


Not enough culture for you?

Microbes After Hours will host a special Agar Art Gallery event this fall to showcase the winning artwork and a selection of the runners up.

How to Submit

  1. Login to MicrobeWorld and upload your image along with its description and tag it with agarart2015.
  2. Fill out and submit this form. Submissions without an accompanying form will not be considered. Be prepared to provide the MicrobeWorld link to your submission. 


  • The submission must be new, not seen/posted on the internet before or previously published elsewhere.
  • May be of any organism(s), with any type(s) of agar, on any size petri dish, but must be at its "core" an agar plate.
  • Descriptions (200 words or less of your original work) should aim to capture the attention of a general public audience as well as educate them on some features of your piece. (Click here for an example.)
  • Be as imaginative and creative as you like, but please also be safe. For more information, please consult ASM's Guidelines for Biosafety in Teaching Laboratories and the Appendix to the Guidelines.
  • Photos must be 300 dpi or higher resolution, but no larger than 10 Mb.
  • Minor editing of photos to improve clarity of the image is permitted, but other artificial enhancements or manipulations (e.g. false coloring) are not permitted. 


1st place will receive $85 credit towards a purchase from Michele Banks' Art Store.
1st, 2nd, 3rd place and People's Choice winners will receive their choice of an ASM book from the list provided here.

If your image is selected for display at our special Microbes After Hours Gallery Exhibition, you will also receive its high quality print afterwards. Number selected will depend on space.


Michele Banks
Watercolor and Collage Artist

Jamie Henzy
Postdoctoral Fellow at Boston College and Associate Blogger at Small Things Considered

Vincent Racaniello
Professor at Columbia University and Host of This Week in Virology (TWiV)

Dennis Bray
Professor at University of Cambridge

Sallie (Penny) Chisholm
Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology 

Judging Criteria

    Judges will select single 1st, 2nd, 3rd place winners based on the following criteria:
  • creativity
  • design
  • presentation
  • scientific accuracy of description
  • appropriateness of description for a general audience

Online Voting

Submissions will be judged by the public via Facebook “likes” after being published in an Agar Art Contest 2015 album on ASM’s Facebook site. Online voting will open to the public on September 8th, 2015. One winner will be selected based on highest number of likes obtained by September 25th 5:00 EST.

Prize Dissemination

Winners will be announced and notified during the last week of September 2015.

Online store credit for Michele Banks' artwork will be delivered electronically within two weeks to the winner's supplied e-mail.

All winners will have 90 days from the date of notification to make their book selection known to ASM Communications by responding to the winner notification e-mail. Selections may only be from the given list of options. Once received, ASM will process the book order within two weeks.

Participants whose artwork will be featured at the Microbes After Hours Art Gallery Event will be notified via e-mail 6 weeks prior to the event. Prints of the featured pieces will be mailed out within 2 weeks following the art gallery event.

Terms and Conditions


The American Society of Microbiology will be subsequently abbreviated to ASM. Herein "work" refers to participants' contest submissions, including, but not limited to videos, photos, writing, artwork, and/or designs. "Participants" refers to all individuals involved in the creation of said work and "submitter" refers to the individual submitting said work on behalf of all participants to ASM. Submitter accepts the responsibilities detailed below on behalf of any and all additional, associated participants.


This contest is open to all ASM members. Current ASM staff are not eligible, though ASM volunteers, former ASM staff, and the friends and relatives of ASM staff are eligible if they meet the primary eligibility criteria specified above.

Participation in this contest is limited to single participants.

Multiple submissions by the same participants are permitted.

Submitters must be 18 years of age or older. As it is relevant to the contest rules specified above, the submitter must have prior permission from the appropriate legal guardians of any participant under 18 years of age (i.e. a minor) in order to submit work on behalf of said minor(s).

There is no entry fee for participation in the Agar Art Contest 2015.

Responsibilities of Participants

The submitter, on behalf of all associated participants, affirms that: (1) he/she has authority to submit said work for this contest; (2) the submitted work is the original creation of the participants, has not appeared anywhere else in any other form, and does not violate or infringe upon any copyright, trademark, privacy, or other proprietary rights of any entity or person; (3) the participants have secured any and all permissions and releases from any applicable third parties as required by law in the creation of the work and royalty-free, irrevocable, and perpetual transfer of said work to ASM; and (4) for any and all minors (persons under the age of 18 years old) permission for their participation in the creation of said work has been obtained from their legal guardian(s), prior to participation in creating said work and after disclosure of any and all risks involved.

The submitter, on behalf of all associated participants, hereby acknowledges and agrees that:

(1) each participant, including herself/himself has accepted full responsibility for submitting any necessary ethics-related report(s) to their employer, funding agency, and/or appropriate managing office and the responsibility of advising ASM if ASM is required to submit a report to any of these same entities;

(2) ASM has the right, but not the obligation, to monitor this contest to ensure compliance with all legal conditions and guidelines. Submitter agrees that the burden of determining the submitter's legal authority to use, display, submit, and transfer rights and/or ownership of said work and its components lies solely with the submitter, who also bears the sole liability for any damages related to infringement upon the aforementioned rights of any other entity or person;

(3) ASM and any relevant partners, affiliates, and sponsors are not liable for any and all costs, damages, claims, liabilities, or expenses of any sort associated with the creation and/or submission of said work, the acceptance and use of any prize awarded, or any public comments made by third parties about said work upon its public display;

(4) ASM is not responsible for any technical failures or problems of any kind associated with any mode of electronic submission used, nor for any delays, restrictions, or problems associated with postal delivery of said work;

(5) ASM is not responsible for any damages and/or alterations to said work resulting from the selected or required delivery method; and

(6) no component of said work is permitted to contain any language, imagery, or themes that are offensive, objectionable, discriminatory or threatening against any persons, or illegal.

Rights of ASM and Governing Law

ASM retains the right to alter, effectively immediately, any component of this contest at any time without prior notification, including, but not limited to suspending and/or prematurely terminating this contest prior to the close of the submission date. Should ASM decide to prematurely terminate this contest, any materials physically delivered to ASM will be returned to submitters, electronic submissions will be deleted, and all rights will revert back to the submitter and any and all additional participants.

All works and participants associated with any participant suspected or known to be in violation of the legal conditions and guidelines set forth in this contest will be disqualified at ASM's sole determination without the obligation of prior notification or means to appeal.

ASM retains the right to overrule or amend any decisions by non-ASM staff judges, without prior notification.

All ASM contests' legal conditions and guidelines are governed by the laws of the District of Columbia. Any claim, dispute, or suit arising from an ASM sponsored contest will be settled in this venue.

Void where prohibited by law.

Final Ownership of Work

Submitter, on behalf of all participants, hereby agrees to assign all right, title and interest and ownership of the work to ASM. Submitter affirms that he/she has the legal authority to do so.

Submitter hereby agrees on behalf of all associated participants that the names and/or biographical and demographic information of each associated participant, including the submitter, may be used by ASM without compensation, unless prohibited by law, for promotional purposes of this current and any future contests or similar contests, including, but not limited to, announcement of contest winners and advertisements. ASM agrees to request additional, subsequent permission for the use of any participant's likeness, image/photograph, and/or voice outside of any of these already provided as part of said work, in the event the need or desire arises.

Compensation and Prizes

Submitter acknowledges on behalf of all participants that participation in this contest is voluntary and that no participant will receive financial compensation of any type associated with this submission or from any use of the submission by ASM.

Prizes will be awarded to the submitter and/or any other parties specified in the individual contest language, if such language is present. Prizes are non-transferrable. Awardees are responsible for all federal, state, and local taxes, surcharges, and fees applicable to the prizes. Forfeited prizes, through awardee refusal or disqualification of participant(s)/associated work, must be returned to ASM within 90 ninety days of forfeiture, if dispatched. ASM may, at its sole discretion, decide to award said prizes to other parties entered in the same contest. ASM is not responsible for lost or stolen prizes.


Apply Now! ASM Communications and Marketing Fellowship for 2015


Are you an early career scientist who is interested in public outreach? Do you want to share your love of microbiology with the world?  Consider applying to the American Society for Microbiology’s Headquarter Communications Fellowship.  This 6-month fellowship in Washington DC is the perfect opportunity to learn more about the exciting field of science communication.  Now accepting applications through October 22. Apply Today.

The Program

The American Society for Microbiology’s Department of Communications and Marketing Strategy has an opening for an ASM Headquarters Fellow. The Department provides a variety of communication services for the Society including press relations, public outreach and centralized marketing functions. The fellow will focus on public outreach and increasing member involvement in public outreach.

During the course of 6-month the fellow will:

  • increase knowledge of best practices in science communication
  • develop a portfolio of writing samples and public outreach activities for a range of audiences including ASM membership and the public-at-large
  • improve project and people management skills, gain leadership and collaboration skills
  • increase knowledge of non-research, science-based career options, and develop a network of contacts in informal science education and science communication

The purpose of ASM HQ Communications Fellowship Program is to provide an intense and multi-faceted training experience for individuals who will have completed a doctoral degree by December 2014 or are currently in post-doctoral degree training and are interested in exploring careers outside the traditional academic environment. The program is intended to advance ones’ knowledge and skills in the area of public outreach and science communications as it applies to furthering the microbiological sciences and the mission of ASM.

The fellowship is for 6-consecutive months and are in residency at the ASM in Washington, DC. It may require some travel. The fellowships offer a $25,000 6-month stipend, medical benefits, and a public transportation subsidy. Start date must be between January - February 2015.

Prospective fellows must:

  • be citizens of the United States or U.S. Permanent Residents, be a current member of ASM
  • have completed their Ph.D. or postdoctoral fellowship by the start of the ASM fellowship
  • and, have a background in microbiology, or related field


The ASM Fellow must:

  • have a Ph.D. in microbiology or a related field
  • provide their CV
  • provide a personal statement
  • provide a list of volunteer experience
  • and, provide two letters of reference

Candidates must have solid scientific credentials as evidenced from publications and presentations. Participation in ASM_sponsored activities is desirable. Applicants should have experience in public outreach. A successful applicant will have demonstrated initiative and leadership by organizing either departmental or volunteer activities.


To apply for the ASM (HQ) Communications Fellowship Program, click Apply Now.

Applying for the ASM Headquarter Fellowship Program is now easier than ever. With this online application system, you have a one-stop shop that allows you to view all ASM Education Board and Fellowship programs for which you are eligible to apply.

Applicants begin the application process by establishing a profile. The profile will be saved for future use in order to provide applicants the ability to apply for other ASM Fellowship opportunities that they may be interested in pursuing. For a complete list of all ASM Fellowship opportunities, please visit: http://www.asm.org/index.php/professionaldevelopment/postdocs.

A complete application includes all supporting documents and must be submitted via the online application system. Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis through October 22, 2014. Candidates are responsible for soliciting the required references and ensuring the references are forwarded before the deadline. Incomplete applications will not be reviewed.


Candidates selected for interviews must be available for virtual interviews.

For questions about the ASM HQ Fellowship Program, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


ASM Headquarter Fellowship in Communications and Marketing
Human Resources Department
American Society for Microbiology
1752 N Street, NW 
Washington, DC 20036 
Phone: (202) 737-3600 
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

USA Science and Engineering Fest Contest - Win Free Registration to ASM2012

The American Society for Microbiology is looking for innovative, interactive microbiology activities targeted to middle school children for ASM's booth at the April 2012 USA Science & Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C.

The winning entry will receive free registration to the 2012 ASM General Meeting in San Francisco. Runners-up will receive a $100 gift card for ASM Press.

usascifestTo enter, submit your idea along with your contact information to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. by September 30, 2011.

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