Each year, the American Physical Society (APS) Division of Fluid Dynamics holds a video and poster contest, celebrating 2-3 minute videos that communicate concepts in biophysics and fluid dynamics. One of this year’s winning videos was made by postdoc Séverine Atis, who has since relocated to a second postdoc at University of Chicago. The video depicts yeast experiments that Atis and Applied Physics graduate student Bryan Weinstein conducted in the Murray Lab and the Nelson Lab at Harvard.
“The annual video poster competition of the American Physical Society that Severine Atis won honors Milton van Dyke, the author of a famous book depicting classic experiments in fluid mechanics, “An Album of Fluid Motion” (Paragon Press, 1982) , which has now been cited over 2600 times,” explains Biophysics and Applied Physics faculty David R. Nelson, who advised Atis’s postdoc. “It is extremely rare to have any entries coming from biology labs, and even more remarkable that a biologically-inspired submission actually win the competition this year!”
The decision to make a video and enter the APS video and poster contest grew out discussions between the scientists involved.“Andrew [Murray], David [Nelson], Bryan [Weinstein], and myself, we all have always agreed on the aesthetic quality of the growing and fracturing colonies videos we were taking for our measurements,” Atis says.
The resulting video—titled Rocket Yeast—features microscope footage of yeast colonies growing and dispersing through a high-viscosity liquid medium. Captions explain that the yeast’s metabolism generates a hydrodynamical flow in the liquid by gobbling up all the sugar molecules and creating patches of lighter, less dense fluid.The action is all set to a jaunty accordion tune, written by Atis’s partner Otto Briner.
“The whole process turned out to be more fun and inspiration-driven than just hard production work, and made me think about my science from a different angle,” Atis says. “Instead of being seen in conflict with each other, for the first time my passion for music and visual arts could work together with my research in science.”
For Atis, producing the video was a rare opportunity to combine her lifelong love of music with science communication. She and Briner performed and recorded the score themselves in their home studio.
“Scoring the video was very important for me, as I have composed and recorded music since I was 15, but I never did it for a science video!” Atis says. “The original composition is from my partner, Otto Briner (a talented multi-instrumentalist and scientist!). We record and arrange a lot of music together, both strongly inspired by our science. In thinking of what would go well with this video, I realized a song he had written was the perfect sound track to tell this story!”
Atis says, “I would like to thank my advisors David and Andrew for being very open minded and patient with me, Bryan for being the other half of this project otherwise impossible to achieve alone, Baudouin Saintyves for his artistic guidance on the video editing, and Otto Briner for his musical composition.”
Nelson adds, “Through the FAS Center for Systems Biology (run by Andrew Murray for many years) and its successor, the Quantitative Biology Initiative, Harvard has been at the frontier of facilitating interactions between biologists and physical scientists. The work embodied in the award-winning video of Séverine Atis is a direct result of these efforts, and illustrates the beautiful problems and “low hanging fruit” that can be understood when these two communities interact on a regular basis”.
Congratulations to the scientists and artists behind Rocket Yeast!