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Microbiologist Transforms Bacteria Into Photo Art

Adorning your living room mantel with a petri dish full of germs normally wouldn’t sound appealing. But once you take a look at Zachary Copfer’s unique creations, you might be intrigued — if you’re not already running to the bathroom to wash your hands.

Copfer is a Cincinnati-based microbiologist-turned-artist who figured out a way to create photographs in bacteria, as shown in the video above. To create this "bacteriography," as he calls it, Copfer uses a process similar to darkroom photography: he replaces the enlarger with a source of radiation and, instead of photo paper, he uses living bacteria on a special plate.

Much like an artist's palette, Copfer uses different bacterias to produce different colors. For example, E. coli produces a sort of glow-in-the-dark effect. To keep things safe after the "photo" is created, Copfer exposes the entire plate to radiation to kill the bacteria and then preserves the plate in resin. The whole process can take about a month, but it varies depending on the photo.

This projects stems from Copfer's combined background in science and art. He has a bachelor's degree in biology and spent five years working as a microbiologist. Then, later, what started as a thesis for his MFA photography degree at the University of Cincinnati grew into an interest in using bacteria as an artisitic medium.
 
 

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