Sound can be used in innovative ways in data analytics and interpretation. Micro Lux Chants is a multi-disciplinary art-science project where we seek to understand the life cycle of bioluminescent bacterium – Aliivibrio Fischeri through the medium of sound. The bacterial life cycle consists of four phases, namely: lag phase, log phase, stationary phase and the death phase. The team at the ArtSciLab and the Gassensmith Lab, has conducted significant studies through time-lapse photography of these bacteria over two years, to understand the growth and decay of these bacteria through visualization. We now traverse into a new form of data interpretation called sonification. The ability to detect what phase the bacteria is in during its life cycle, by listening, instead of seeing the growth and decay of these bacteria.

To achieve this goal, principles of Frequency Modulation and multiple blob tracking have been used in PureData and Max/msp, an open source visual programming language for multimedia. The process of translating data to sound is termed sonification.

When there is a large number of batches of bioluminescent bacteria being grown, the researcher has to diagnose the stage of the life cycle of these bacteria through visual observation, which can be a time-consuming process as it requires constant supervision of these batches. This project proposes to solve this problem by using a software-based visual code to track the areas of growth in the bacterial colonies and obtain a sound output to detect which phase of the life cycle the bacteria is in.

The significance of these findings is twofold. Firstly, the biotechnological applications of bioluminescent bacteria extend to cell tracking in cancer research, gene control using quorum sensing and to test the effectiveness of antibiotics. Secondly, this research has applications in art-science communication, phenomenological studies of bioluminescence and data translation.

The project was presented as a poetic sound-art installation with a screen showing the process of making bioluminescent bacteria, two posters speaking about the concepts and phases of the project and a listening activity where people are invited to listen to bacteria singing or “Chanting”. I(Ritwik) treated each colony of bacteria as a poet of a different language and the bacteria recite poetry as they light up. As the bacteria populate inside the petri dishes, the poetry gets chaotic to listen to, due to the simultaneous confluence of languages. As the bacteria begin to decay, the voices and the poetry fade out and the human voice lingers in the end.


Bioluminescence, Sonification, Quorum Sensing, Listening, Art-Science Communication, Visual Programming, Bio-art, Data Translation, Pure Data, Computer art, Phenomenology

Graduate Student Team

  • Ritwik Kaikini (MA Arts and Technology ’18) (2016-present)
  • Brian Merlo (BS Bioengineering ‘19) (2018- present)

Undergraduate Student Team

  • Victoria Nguyen (BS Biochemistry ‘17)
  • Nhan T Khuu (Health Studies Major)
  • Anna Lynn Edwards (Biology Major)
  • Ashton Brillante (BA Arts and Technology ’17)

Faculty Team

  • Jeremiah J Gassensmith (Gassensmith Lab)
  • Roger Malina (ArtSciLab)
  • Frank Dufour (LabSynthE)

  • Written, Edited and Directed by: Ritwik Kaikini
  • Background Score by: Ritwik Kaikini
  • Videography by: Aahlad Madireddy, Oskar Olsson, Brian Merlo, Ritwik Kaikini