Illustrations inspired by food, gut microbiome and health research

26th June 2023

Scientists and illustration students collaborate to communicate the science of microbes, food safety, the gut microbiome and health

Illustration of colourful microbes with facesAt the Quadram Institute we study the exciting interfaces between food science, gut biology, human health and disease. At the forefront of discovery, we are always looking to communicate the latest research to new audiences.

Illustration is an important way to engage new audiences and convey sometimes complex concepts in a simple way.

Along with being a hub for life science research, Norwich is home to a top creative arts university, Norwich University of the Arts (NUA). We were delighted to work with the BA Illustration course at NUA as part of a collaborative teaching unit.

The collaboration involved a visit from second year BA Illustration students, their tutors and Course Leader to the Quadram Institute building where they saw inside our state-of-the-art laboratories and met with several of our researchers and staff, including PhD students, Postdoctoral Researchers and Support Staff to learn more about our research into Microbes and Food Safety and our Food, Microbiome and Health research programme.

Dr Emma Holden, a Postdoctoral Researcher who took part in the project says, “Sometimes as scientists we can be stuck in our own little echo chambers surrounded by people working on the same thing, so I really appreciated the opportunity to present my work to those who perhaps weren’t interested in science at school.”

“It was exciting to see the students’ reaction to different aspects of our work and it was actually useful to me, seeing what sparked the most interest,” adds Dr Melissa Antoniou-Kourouniotti, who is the Network & Partnerships Manager at UK Food Safety Research Network based here at the Quadram Institute.

A group of students wearing lab coats

Gill Sampson Illustration Course Leader at Norwich University of the Arts comments, “We are excited to be working on a new collaboration with the Quadram Institute to illustrate new research in food science, gut biology and human health. Our students are using their illustration skills to engage new audiences, raise awareness and communicate new knowledge.”

After the visit to the Quadram Institute, the Illustration students went away to digest the research and develop their creative responses. A month or so later, the NUA illustration students presented their work in progress to researchers to get feedback on their ideas and this also gave an opportunity for two-way dialogue.

Their illustrations of food, gut microbiome and health research ranged from using football visuals to communicate the evolution of antimicrobial resistance, a dress to raise awareness of the diversity of the gut microbiome and an interactive children’s books to explore the relationship between food and the gut microbiome.

“I thought the students’ work was excellent”, comments Emily Smith, Programme Manager here at the Quadram Institute. “It was exciting to me to see which areas of our science captured their imaginations and how they interpreted the science into a range of concepts across many mediums. I enjoyed seeing the concepts that we work with every day here at the Institute represented in so many different ways by the students aimed at different target audiences. Who knew there were so many ways that science could be communicated via illustration”.

Izzy Collins, an Illustration student chose to explore the Simulator of the Human Intestinal Microbial Ecosystem (SHIME) through her illustration. “It felt like a fun challenge to try and complete observational drawings and learn to depict something this complicated,” says Izzy.

“As I began to understand my way around it physically, my knowledge around the scientific side of things got clearer too, which was so rewarding. I wanted to try and share that feeling through my own art in a way I felt I’d engage with personally, in the hope others would find the SHIME as interesting as I do”.

Researcher Emma continues, “The feedback session at NUA was so interesting and perfectly displayed the intersection between art and science. The work produced has been absolutely incredible. I was so amazed by the dedication and effort the students showed to understand and incorporate some tricky cutting-edge science into their projects.”

Aryana Zardkoohi-Burgos, a PhD student at the Quadram Institute adds, “Throughout history, science and art have been interconnected. It was a great experience to present some of my work to the students and a true joy to see how together the work we conduct here at the institute can inspire their creative path, as reflected in the outstanding work”.

As well as producing individual work, the NUA illustration students work together on a joint publication to showcase their work.

Illustration Course Leader Gill says, “Working collaboratively to explore creative connections between science and illustration, they have produced a truly diverse range of Individual outcomes and a joint publication to showcase their work on the project. Thanks to Ruby O’Grady, the researchers and staff at the Quadram Institute for their amazing work and collaboration with our students and staff this term.”

The students also have the opportunity to showcase their work via the Quadram Institue Instagram account and a small physical exhibition in the Quadram Institute public atrium (between 17 to 21 July).

Researcher Emma reflects, “The questions and ideas posed by the students really made me think about my work from a different angle. This has really helped me in my own outreach find better ways to connect with those without a scientific background in a fun and exciting way I’ve loved being part of this collaboration between Norwich University of the Arts and Quadram Institute”.

Emily concludes, “Science and art worlds can really come together to reach previously untapped audiences”.

  • Follow the Quadram Institute on Instagram to see more of the NUA illustration students work
  • Some of the illustration students work will be on public display in the Quadram Institute building from 17-21 July

Related Targets

Targeting antimicrobial resistance

Antimicrobial Resistance


Targeting food safety

Food Safety

Targeting Future Foods

Future Foods

Targeting IBD

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Targeting personalised nutrition

Personalised Nutrition

Targeting the understanding of the microbiome

Understanding the Microbiome

Related Research Areas

A green background with an illustration of a gut full of microbes.

Food, Microbiome and Health

A black background with a spherical form of green and purple bacteria. Radiating out from the central spherical form and green and purple streaks.

Microbes and Food Safety