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A voice for flying bacteria


Narratives and storytelling are useful tools for communicating science to non-expert audiences but they often have negative connotations when used among scientists (Dahlstrom, 2014). However, allegories, metaphors and other tools of storytelling can be extremely useful even for communication among scientists across disparate disciplines when scientists from one discipline effectively constitute non-experts relative to scientists from other disciplines. Furthermore, to integrate information from wide ranging sources into an understanding of complex systems that largely surpass the scales of time and space in which we readily comprehend our existence, we might have to tell ourselves stories to put all of the pieces together. Surely that is how my brain works to build an understanding of the emission of bacteria into the atmosphere, their flight, their interaction with clouds, their subsequent trajectory, their genetic diversification and their overall life history.

Once upon a time this summer when I was listening to an alluring version of Dust in the Wind by Korean guitar virtuoso Sungha Jung (, a story about flying ice nucleation active bacteria literally popped into my head. It is perhaps one of the stories that I have been telling myself without really being conscious of this mental construction. The story took on a life of its own and led me into an obsessive attempt to tell it the best I could, as a song with illustrations.

As for my previous  song “Clouds: When Physics meets Biology “, this new song illustrates how scientific discoveries can inspire poetry. It also illustrates that the process of rational reasoning associated with science is one aspect of the complex workings of the brain that can inspire the subtleties and nuances of art.  Together they help us to understand.

« We are more than dust in the wind »  is a video available on You Tube. The video presents the song and then presents the scientific information on which the lyrics were founded. I encourage you to use it in your teaching or in communicating with your friends, family and colleagues if you think that it could be helpful. Please note that unlike my previous song, I did not have any professional help in putting this together. Hopefully the amateurism will not distract too much from the message.

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Dahlstrom MF. 2014. Using narratives and storytelling to communicate science with nonexpert audiences. PNAS. 111 :13614-13620. doi/10.1073/pnas.1320645111

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