Visualizing the invisible: class excursions to ignite children’s enthusiasm for microbes


We have recently argued that, because microbes

have pervasive – often vital – influences on our

lives, and that therefore their roles must be taken

into account in many of the decisions we face, soci ety must become microbiology-literate, through the

introduction of relevant microbiology topics in

school curricula (Timmis et al. 2019. Environ Micro biol 21: 1513-1528). The current coronavirus pan demic is a stark example of why microbiology

literacy is such a crucial enabler of informed policy

decisions, particularly those involving preparedness

of public-health systems for disease outbreaks and

pandemics. However, a significant barrier to attain ing widespread appreciation of microbial contribu tions to our well-being and that of the planet is the

fact that microbes are seldom visible: most people

are only peripherally aware of them, except when

they fall ill with an infection. And it is disease, rather

than all of the positive activities mediated by

microbes, that colours public perception of ‘germs’

and endows them with their poor image. It is impera tive to render microbes visible, to give them life and

form for children (and adults), and to counter preva lent misconceptions, through exposure to imagina tion-capturing images of microbes and examples of

their beneficial outputs, accompanied by a balanced

narrative. This will engender automatic mental asso ciations between everyday information inputs, as

well as visual, olfactory and tactile experiences, on

the one hand, and the responsible microbes/micro bial communities, on the other hand. Such associa tions, in turn, will promote awareness of microbes

and of the many positive and vital consequences of

their actions, and facilitate and encourage incorpora tion of such consequences into relevant decision making processes. While teaching microbiology

topics in primary and secondary school is key to

this objective, a strategic programme to expose chil dren directly and personally to natural and managed

microbial processes, and the results of their actions,

through carefully planned class excursions to local

venues, can be instrumental in bringing microbes to

life for children and, collaterally, their families. In

order to encourage the embedding of microbiology centric class excursions in current curricula, we sug gest and illustrate here some possibilities relating to

the topics of food (a favourite pre-occupation of

most children), agriculture (together with horticulture

and aquaculture), health and medicine, the environ ment and biotechnology. And, although not all of the

microbially relevant infrastructure will be within

reach of schools, there is usually access to a mar ket, local food store, wastewater treatment plant,

farm, surface water body, etc., all of which can pro vide opportunities to explore microbiology in action.

If children sometimes consider the present to be

mundane, even boring, they are usually excited with

both the past and the future so, where possible, vis its to local museums (the past) and research institu tions advancing knowledge frontiers (the future)

are strongly recommended, as is a tapping into the

natural enthusiasm of local researchers to leverage

the educational value of excursions and virtual

excursions. Children are also fascinated by the

unknown, so, paradoxically, the invisibility of

microbes makes them especially fascinating objects

for visualization and exploration. In outlining some

of the options for microbiology excursions, provid ing suggestions for discussion topics and consider ing their educational value, we strive to extend the

vistas of current class excursions and to: (i) inspire

teachers and school managers to incorporate more

microbiology excursions into curricula; (ii) encour age microbiologists to support school excursions

and generally get involved in bringing microbes to

life for children; (iii) urge leaders of organizations

(biopharma, food industries, universities, etc.) to

give school outreach activities a more prominent

place in their mission portfolios, and (iv) convey to

policymakers the benefits of providing schools with

funds, materials and flexibility for educational

endeavours beyond the classroom

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J, M (2024). Visualizing the invisible: class excursions to ignite children’s enthusiasm for microbes. Afribary. Retrieved from

MLA 8th

J, McGenity "Visualizing the invisible: class excursions to ignite children’s enthusiasm for microbes" Afribary. Afribary, 12 Apr. 2024, Accessed 26 May. 2024.


J, McGenity . "Visualizing the invisible: class excursions to ignite children’s enthusiasm for microbes". Afribary, Afribary, 12 Apr. 2024. Web. 26 May. 2024. < >.


J, McGenity . "Visualizing the invisible: class excursions to ignite children’s enthusiasm for microbes" Afribary (2024). Accessed May 26, 2024.