Most of our commissions at Scienseed are for adult-oriented communication materials, so we had plenty to learn and consider when designing the Bacterial Park. First, we had to settle on a goal: What age-groups are appropriate? What prior knowledge can we expect? There are no parents at Scienseed (yet!), so we did what we do well: research.
Published evidence shows that young schoolchildren who know about microbes tend to associate the critters with dirt and disease. Few know that bacteria are also involved in beneficial processes such as food production and medicine. So, we had a plan: to challenge early notions of bacteria as solely harmful creatures.
We chose several examples of non-virulent microbes with super-abilities, both natural and laboratory made. These include fluorescent bacteria, those capable of fermenting yogurt and cheese, some which can survive extreme heat and radiation, and others that create spider silk, as well as some of the harmless, helpful ones that live inside the human body.
While scientists are quite comfortable discussing microscopic creatures they can’t see, we needed to blow up the microbes to visible proportions. We turned every bacterium into a charismatic sticker and placed them all in the centrefold of a fictional safari, Bacterial Park. Inside, brave explorers can find the varied habitats that each microbe calls home, from the Endless Forest to the Secret Lab.
Much work went into planning and producing the booklet’s activities. We combed through education and style guides, and many references from children’s books. Although our album is designed for 8 to 12 year-olds — the lower-end matching when microbes are usually introduced in school curriculums — there are several layers of complexity, to satisfy and challenge a variety of audiences.