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Third Fascination of Plants Day @ MSU: Arts Go Green increases community reach

Michigan State University plant biologists hosted the third Fascination of Plants Day @ MSU on Saturday, May 18th at the MSU Broad Art Lab and the East Lansing Art Festival.

This year, plant science met the arts in a first collaboration involving MSU plant scientists, the MSU Broad Museum, and the East Lansing Art Festival. It turned out really well.

Over 500 participants—more than double the attendees last year—came to experience the world of plants and algae through family-friendly science and art activities where they learned about plant medicinal benefits and industrial applications and interacted with MSU scientists.

Highlights included a virtual reality display where viewers could dissect crops to see their insides (sunflowers, lime, etc.); extracting DNA from bananas and strawberries; a display of moss evolution and how it could help feed astronauts colonizing Mars; and multiple hands-on activities, such as painting leaves using pigments extracted from plants, identifying seeds and plant smells, making DNA out of gummy bears, or drawing fungi and other crops.

Anne-Sophie Bohrer-Cognon, a post-doc for the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) at MSU and lead event coordinator says, “The event this year was the best yet! Our partnership with the MSU Broad Art Lab and the East Lansing Arts Festival allowed us to reach a broader audience and attract more visitors. It is a great feeling to see whole families discover all the amazing, interesting aspects of plant sciences, and interact directly with scientists.”

First slide
Seeing how scientists measure plant photosynthesis activity

Well over 50 volunteers from the College of Natural Sciences, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and from the Broad Museum led the demonstrations.

Bohrer-Cognon adds, “The volunteers did a fantastic job engaging children and parents all day long, which is a great reward for the organizing team after months of planning!”

Björn Hamberger, co-event coordinator and Assistant Professor at MSU, says, “This year’s event attracted a very diverse crowd of parents with kids, excited adults and people generally interested in our programs and how they connect with the art festival. It is noteworthy that the volunteers at the kid’s tent at our Art Festival site felt overwhelmed by the public’s interest. We will certainly need more presence there next time. Way to go, curious kids!”

“Much of what we do at the MSU Broad Art Lab is born from a belief that we all have something valuable to share,” says Michelle Word, Director of Education at the MSU Broad Art Musuem. “When we bring our knowledge together, well that’s the space great ideas are born! Facination of Plants day was just such a moment. It was collaborative and interdisciplinary, bring together campus and the community in celebration of creative and scientific inquiry in all its forms.”

Bohrer-Cognon concludes, “Bridging science and art in the context of Fascination of Plants Day was a really interesting addition this year, as science is a creative process on its own. I am eager to see how we will make Fascination of Plants Day even better and bigger in 2020!”

Fascination of Plants Day is a world-wide event taking place under the umbrella of the European Plant Science Organisation. The goal is to get the general public enthused about the role of plant sciences in agriculture, forestry, industry (paper, timber, medicine, and energy), and environmental conservation.

The MSU organizing committee was: Anne-Sophie Bohrer-Cognon (lead event coordinator); Dr. Björn Hamberger, Research Technician, Britta Hamberger, and Sunil Kenchanmane Raju (event coordinators); Igor Houwat (communications) - Broad Museum committee: Michelle Word (lead coordinator); Britany Benson (event coordinator); Morgan Butts (communications); Stephanie Kribs (operations coordinator)