Public Engagement with Science

The future of science depends on our ability to communicate its importance. Throughout the past few years, I have developed multicultural and multilingual approaches to communicate science through the use of creative culturally-relevant storytelling and crocheted art


Scientists and engineers often struggle to engage with the public. Common explanations for this phenomenon include difficulties in explaining STEM concepts. SciArt, the combination of science and art, has emerged as a solution to this problem by facilitating the visualization and communication of ideas without the intrusion of jargon. I use crocheted art to teach about the microbes within and around us. My microbes are currently part of a SciArt exhibit titled SPACE (curated by Gideon Gerlt). My piece is titled "A Square Inch of Skin" and highlights the microbial diversity found in the human body. The exhibit was originally at the Tompkins County Public Library for 1 month and is now on tour in Alaska!  


Posing next to my piece at the Tompkins Count Public Library


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Social media platforms have also become ubiquitous and powerful tools for the dissemination of scientific information that lower the barriers of access to knowledge and scientists across the world. This is particularly important given that access to scientific knowledge is so often confined to the English-speaking world. With this in mind, I launched a bilingual social media initiative with two goals: (1) to teach about microbes around and within us through the use of crocheted art and (2) to increase the visibility of Colombian STEM professionals.

Every #MicrobeMonday and #MicroMartes I share a new crocheted microbe and tell a short story about its biology, discovery, or a recent finding on my social media accounts (@AnaMaPorras and @anaerobias, in English and Spanish respectively). I also regularly profile Colombian scientists and engineers. My followers are all over the world but primarily in the United States and Colombia. They prefer to interact with the content through storytelling formats and they love learning about the journeys and experiences of all scientists. 

Sample of my Instagram feed



Flyer of a talk in Guatemala

We must meet people where they are and explain our findings in a manner that is culturally-relevant, interesting, and accessible for each audience. In Ithaca, I gave a talk titled "Science's Next Top Models: Engineering Living Tissues in the Lab to Study Disease" at a local bar for the Science on Tap program organized by Graduate Women in Science. I am happy to share my experience as a scientist and was interviewed in 2018 for the Inside the Petri dish podcast on working with animals.


As a Latinamerican, I prioritize communicating in my native tongue. I was recently invited by the National Academy of Sciences in Guatemala to give a talk on "The Human Gut Microbiome: its Exploration and Long-Term Promise" in the city of Xela. Using teleconferencing technology, I have also been able to connect with audiences in Colombia to discuss the human microbiome.