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The Agar Art Competition: Linking Science and Art

Participants from the BYU community used multicolored bacteria to create masterpieces at the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Biology’s (MMBIO) Agar Art Competition on Tuesday, October 10. With the theme of “Microbiology in Space,” artists donned gloves and brushed bacteria onto plates equipped with nutrients for the bacteria to grow in various colors, including a glow-in-the-dark option. Since the colors are only visible after the bacteria incubates in the lab, the participants drew their designs quasi blind—only faint lines are visible at certain angles. When artists were satisfied with their designs, lab assistants took the plates to allow the bacteria to grow overnight.

Each year, the competition provides cash prizes to the winners. This year's winner was Lindy Mangrum (Art ’25) with her piece “Microcosmic Odyssey.” Second place went to Yaeko Farb (Pre-Illustration) with “Star Girl,” and third place went to Lynette Juarez (Geology) with “Amazing Galaxy.”

MMBIO hosts the event twice a year to foster a connection between science and arts students. MMBIO lab administrator and event founder, Bob Black, said that the competition is “a way of bringing science to the people—anybody can do it. It's an interdisciplinary approach, intermingling science and art majors for one cool experience.”

A man with gray hair and a blue shirt holds up a petri dish whlie wearing a black glove.
Photo by Nicholas Rex

Emily Ferkin (MMBIO ’26) said the event helped her better connect with her creative side: “I wouldn’t say that because I'm a science person I don't have artistic sensibilities. I'm a creative writing minor. Having something like this puts together everything I like to do."

A fellow science major, Elias Johnson (BIO ’25) said, “As a STEM major, I don't always feel like I have ways to express my creativity. This project has allowed me to take something that I interact with within my discipline and apply it in artistic ways."

Art students were also able to get in touch with their scientific side. Mangrum, the first place winner, spends time experimenting with a variety of styles to grow as an artist. “I've never done an art medium where you can't see what you're doing,” she said. “You can't see the colors, and you can barely see where your lines are. It's really difficult that way, but I really like it.”

A blonde girl in a pink shirt wearing black gloves looks through a petri dish
Photo by Nicholas Rex

Since the event was advertised to the entire campus community, many participated who have no relation to either the sciences or the arts. Hannah Cardon (Entrepreneurship and Russian ’25) loved getting to interact with majors completely foreign to her. “I've always been interested in sciencey stuff and art; science majors get to do a lot of fun stuff. Through this activity, I get to deal with a little bit of what they get to do,” she explained. “The event satiates my curiosity with science."

All in all, students experienced the best of both the sciences and the arts through agar art. To see other samples of the artwork from the competition, visit