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Fascination of the invisible

Feb 14, 2020

Art and Science – this alliance offers many opportunities, especially when it comes to the tiny world of single-cell organisms. The mural painting of Alexa Garin-Fernandez at the entrance to the Department of Molecular Ecology at the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology shows how this can work. Alexa has done her PhD at the Biological Station Helgoland, which belongs to the Alfred-Wegener-Institute, and knows the department's field of research very well. She comes from Chile and worked as a guest scientist at the Max Planck Institute in Bremen from 2016 to 2019 as a part of her PhD. In addition, she is involved in science communication as a scientific cartoonist. 


Wandbild der Abteilung Molekulare Ökologie. © Max-Planck-Institut für Marine Mikrobiologie, K. Matthes
The artist and microbiologist Alexa Garin-Fernandez needed around six months to create the mural at the entrance to the Department of Molecular Ecology. © Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology / K. Matthes

The artwork depicts the complex studies carried out by the scientists of the department. For example, you can see the microbial habitats that they focus on: From hot vents in the deep sea to the coastal areas of the oceans. Starting from the “big world”, Alexa gradually shows more and more details until she arrives at unicellular organisms and takes a look through the microscope with the viewer. At the same time, she describes important research equipment, shows the everyday life at the institute between microscope, laboratory and computer, and keeps the connecting element constantly flowing in between: the seawater.

Very small but very important

However, research does not just mean to look, research also means to touch. For that reason, the mural also contains interactive elements. Hatches, petri dishes or a magnetic model of a water sampling rosette bring to life the research of the department. Finally, also the "Molecol"-scientists contributed to the mural: In short words they describe what science means for them and why they find single-cell organisms are so fascinating. 

Alexa characterizes this in her painting: “The ocean is full of life, which is mostly invisible to our eyes. These inhabitants are highly diverse and crucial for the survival of the whole planet. The microbial community is dynamic, unique in each region and changes throughout the day and the seasons. From the surface to the deep ocean our goal is to identify the microbial community composition and its role.”

The mural clearly summarizes the work of the Department of Molecular Ecology in words and pictures and shows visitors why people dedicate their life to research the seemingly invisible.

Slideshow: Making of the mural painting

Video: Six months of work in a timelapse


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Visitenkarte von Alexa Garin-Fernandez
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