Microbiologia Italia, a trip to Micropia: About the experience

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One of our authors, Nicola Di Fidio, has recently been to the Amsterdam Micropia museum. We took the occasion to interview him about his experience in the museum and in this website.

“Hi Nicola, for the ones who don’t know, you’ve working as an author for Microbiologia Italia for many years. Would you like to tell our readers your experience in this divulgative project?”

Hi, my adventure in the wonderful project of Microbiologia Italia started in August 2017, when, a year and a half after my Master in Industrial and Ambiental Biotechnology, I was preparing to start my PhD. Since then, for some years, I have been on the other side…. One of the thousands passionate readers of microbiology who daily read the articles published by this website and on the Facebook page of Microbiologia Italia, dreaming one day I’d become a scientific popularizer.

As a student, I’ve never felt like I was able to become an author, but after I got my Master done and after I’ve worked in a research center and in company, I acquired the confidence I needed to send my application to the editorial team of Microbiologia Italia.

Since then, in just two years I had the privilege to achieve about 60 divulgative articles growing my comunicative skills and knowledge thanks to the constant support of a competent, professional, polite, close-knit and tremendously passionate editorial team.

“What leads you to write, for many years now, for our scientific portal?”

Without any doubts it’s my huge love for science and in particular for research applied in biotechnology sector. I love my job of researcher, altough it’s a job full of difficulties and it’s often not so stable, and I’d love to transmit my enthusiasm to my collegues, students and future generations.

As I always say to people who ask me why I apply to this occupation for free, I just need to know that even just one person in the world read one of my articles to make my day and to make me feel fulfilled. Being a researcher to me means being generous because you don’t work for yourself, but for other people. That’s why researchers who keep all of their knowledge for themselves and don’t strain to disclose and share it, to me, can’t call theirselves so.

“In November 2019 you’ve been hosted by the Microbiological museum of Amsterdam, Micropia. Since you’re a Microbiology enthusiast, how did you feel during the visit?”

During the last five years I was lucky enough to travel a lot and visit lots of European science museums, but the experience in Amsterdam’s Micropia was the most exciting. I read about this museum right thanks to one of the published articles on our scientific portal and as soon as I got the occasion to spend a weekend in Amsterdam I couldn’t wait to visit it. I had to!

As soon as I got in, the museum welcomed me with open arms, literally, with a giant tardigrade (if we compare it to the actual size of this microorganism). Not to mention that I felt like a kid in a candy shop. I couldn’t help sitting right in front of him and take us a picture.

Picture 1 – The author Nicola Di Fidio in front of the imposing tardigrade statue in Micropia museum

One of the most fascinating characteristics of Micropia is the feeling of being in an actual microbiological research lab, dotted with optical microscopes with which observe closely bacteria, yeasts, molds and small insects.

All of the museum staff, from the ticket officers to the guides, wore a lab coat and a label with their name on it. Also, all of the present guides alternated explanation moments for the visitors to some moments in which they checked and did maintenance operations on the installations (focusing of the microscopes, microbic density in the flasks…)

Picture 2 – One of many rooms of Amsterdam Micropia Museum

According to this sensation, nearly by the half of the guided path, I ended up in front of a real microbiology lab in which the trained staff was monitoring the exposed microorganisms growth and preparing new plates and new microbic culture,

Picture 3 – The microbiological lab of Micropia

To me it was simply genious, because it perfectly expressed the correlation between technical-scientific aspect and the divulgative and cultural one – which I think should be the most important purpose of this kind of museums. There’s nothing more fascinating than a place which can put together art, culture and science. The Micropia is all of that to me!

Not by chance, right after the microbiological lab there’s an amazing exhibition of houndreds of microorganisms in Petri’s plates, like monocultures or like microbic consortiums obtained by everyday life objects (cellphones, remote controls, pillows, toothbrushes, hands and many others). A true wave of colors and different forms, disposed and described in a very clear and neat way.

Picture 4 – Microbic exhibition with different Petri’s plates

“What did you expect visiting before stepping into Micropia?”

Honestly I thought I was about to visit a classic natural science museum, focused on microorganisms, that is to say a pretty “static” museum, mainly based on the microorganisms description through photographs, videos and plates with non vital microbic cells. On the contrary, the Micropia turned out as the opposite of my expectations: a dinamic, interactive, pretty digital and mostly entirely alive museum!

It was literally crazy that they give you the chance to see moving bacterial cells, fluttering insectslarvae inside of the plates, microalgae, provided light responsive bioluminescent bacteria. But the installation which left me open-mouthed and blank for at least 15 minutes was the multileveled anthill. A true ant-city, which were all incredibly organized and coordinated to carry the ouside food to the work in progress anthills, situated on the inside of transparent glass showcases.

Picture 5 – A big anthill situated in Micropia museum

“Would you recommend this experience to our readers? Why?”

Absolutely! This museum is the apotheosis of every microbiology lover to me! Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to draw people’s attention with science, especially with a specific topic like microbiology. Although, this is a so well designed museum that could be suitable for both adults and kids, microbiology experts and insiders.

The cost of just 8 euros for students and 16 for adults makes the Micropia slightly cheaper than the average Dutch museums and main european science museums.

Last but not least, you shouldn’t neglect the easy access and fruition possibility of all of the museum content, even for disabled people, thanks to a large elevator, which has projected divulgative videos during the staying, to the relatively low microscopes positioning and to the presence of very big dark rooms for the observation of particular installations (bacteric bioluminescence).

Picture 6 – Dark room for bioluminescence observation

“You are a PhD student in Chemical and Material Science by the University of Pisa, what are your future plans?”

My dream is to become a scientific popularizer and researcher in the industrial and ambiental biotechnology field. Since 2015 my job is studying innovative and substainable bioprocesses for biofuels and bioproducts production from second generations biomasses, meaning not of the edible interest. The most fascinating characteristic of my PhD project is the multidisciplinary: organic and inorganic chemistry, microbiology, fermentation biotechnology, chemiometrics and economy bases.

All of this makes me learn more and more everyday, besides giving me interesting suggestions for the realization of my articles for Microbiologia Italia. To date, my short terms goals are to finish my PhD journey, achieving the title of Material and Chemical Science PhD, and continue to contribuite to the divulgative project of Microbiologia Italia.

“Back to divulgation, what do youwant to say to people who might join this divulgation journey? Do you have any advice?”

Scientific divulgation is such an enthusiastic activity, but it’s challenging, too. At the beginning it could seem a game or a passtime, but as time goes on and with the acquired experience you’ll find out the importance of the cultural and social role that it covers. Nowadays the information travels as light speed and that’s why we have to be very careful when you say something. Not surprisingly there’s a global growing effort  to fight fake news.

According to my modest opinion, to do correctly the popularizer activity you first of all need to be extremely motivated and passionate and in second place well prepared, patient, accurate in the veracity of the widespread information and the sources associated with that.

I’ve always been sure that in life commitment, effort and sacrifice always pay back, in different times and shapes for everyone of us. And my experience in Microbiologia Italia has been the lastest demonstration.

Lots of finish lines and recognitions has been achieved from our editorial group, like the constantly growing number of readers (back to the actual 54 thousands), the collaboration started more than a year ago with the publishing house Zanichelli, for drafting deepening cards for high school classbooks, and the invitations to national and international scientific conventions. But our goals are a lot more and they get more and more ambitious.

Our secret of success? Team work! To me, you can’t go so far by yourself, but nothing’s impossible together!

“The interview is finished, do you have something to tell us or our following readers?”

Yes, being part of this scientific project led me to discover the big editorial family of Microbiologia Italia. It’s an heterogenous group which extends from students to researchers to PhDs, freelancers, industrial experts, all united under love for microbiology and willingness to comparison.

Each with their own skills, scientifical preferences, character peculiarity, and writing and ideas ability. This is the true strenght of our group that, without the solid, clear and professional guide of Francesco Centorrino, Andrea Borsa, Salvatore Gemmellaro, Simone Rinaldi e Gaia Balbi wouldn’t have gone so far, achieving the results we got now and we didn’t even expect.

Last but not least, I thank from the bottom of my hearth each of our readers, because it’s thanks to them if me and my fellow adventures find everyday the energy and passion to keep working on the scientific and divulgative project of Microbiologia Italia.

Warm greetings and see you online!

Picture 7 – Another pic of Nicola Di Fidio in Micropia

Author Nicola Di Fidio

Translated by Francesca Buratti

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