Luciferin Redux

Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014
Instructors: Michael Bogan (2011-14), Evan Pruitt (2011)
Stanford Collaborators: Mark Sellmyer, Tobi Schmidt, Chris Contag Lab

In this Upper Division Interdisciplinary Studio (UDIST) students worked in Stanford University's Contag Lab, which pioneered the technique of using firefly genes to make cells glow.  This technique allows cell movement and behavior could be studied in vivo.  Light-emitting substrates, luciferins (from luc -light + fer -bearer: light bearers), are at play here: thus the course name.

The course culminated with students manipulating populations of mouse breast-cancer cells into which firefly genes had been inserted.  Students developed proposals for the use of the cells, which the lab vetted.  The cells were then incubated under varying conditions prescribed by the students, at the lab.  And finally, the population of cells was manipulated in the lab, by the students, in a series of experiments designed to create art. 

Because the cells were to be manipulated in populations, the first part of the course reviewed basic biology, and population dynamics. This was paired with drawing exercises in which students created cellular growth and aggregation patterns using blind, mechanistic systems akin to natural ones.

Because the cells in the lab were suspended in a bovine serum, the course also included a module exploring fluid dynamics, specific gravity, surface tension, fluid mixing, fluid boundary layers, etc.  In a video assignment, from which stills have been pulled for this webpage, students were tasked with mixing fluids without mechanical agitation.