Study trip to Amsterdam (the Netherlands)

August 27-29, 2018

As part of the project “In the Society of Microbes”, co-funded by the European Social Fund, which is carried out by the Croatian Microbiological Society (CMS) in partnership with three constituent faculties of the University of Zagreb (Faculty of Science, Faculty of Food Technology and Biotechnology, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine), Faculty of Medicine (University of Rijeka), the Croatian Catholic University, and BIUS and Bioteka (NGOs); a study trip to Amsterdam (Netherlands) was organized on August 27-29, 2018. The main goal of the organized study tour was to visit the museum of microbes – Artis Micropia. Artis Micropia museum is located in the center of Amsterdam within the Zoological Gardens and as such is unique and original. The purpose of the museum is to introduce the mysterious micro world and to bring about the knowledge and positive aspects of the microbes to the visitor. The museum also works as an interdisciplinary platform for joining scientific groups that are studying microbes to bring microbiology closer to the general public.

On the first day of the study tour we arrived to Amsterdam by plane in the evening. After settling in the hotel we had a pleasant late-night dinner that enabled the participants to get to know each other better. On the second day after breakfast we went to visit the Artis Micropia museum. Professor Bauke Oudega, the president of FEMS (Federation of European Microbiological Societies), welcomed us in front of the museum. Prof. Oudega is a former dean of the Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences and the former vice-rector of Vrije University in Amsterdam, located near the museum. With the warmest regards and welcome wishes, prof. Oudega handed the book: “Mighty microbes – The amazing world of microorganisms” (editors: JD Doorn, J., Luirink, J. van der Oost, B. Oudega, L. Robertson, H. Smit , P. Willemsen, C. Biemans) as a gift to our group. The review of the book can be read on the HMD web site. This book is a valuable gift and will greatly assist us in the implementation of our project “In the Society of Microbes”.

An exciting visit to the mysterious world of Artis Micropia has followed. The very entrance into the museum greatly intrigued us. We were fascinated by the great sculpture of water bear microbe (Tardigrada) in the entrance hall, a charming chubby looking mascot reminiscent of a small clumsy bear whose plush version can be bought at the museum shop (a part of us bought it). Along with the museum ticket we got a booklet on which we could collect the stamps of 30 different microbes that can be seen through the exhibition display. In this way, visitors are invited to participate actively during their visit. However, the most exciting part of the museum’s entry was the entrance itself. As the majority of the exhibits are located on the first floor, visitors enter by elevator and through the simulation shown on the ceiling are drawn into the magical micro-world. The exhibit is made of a series of most interesting and interactive stories about microorganisms.

The Artis Micropia museum displays the microbes in a fun, modern, yet simple and educational way. It succeeds in bringing this mysterious micro-world closer to everyone. At the beginning of the path through the museum, there is a brief historical overview of the evolution of microbes, their vast variability and phylogenetic relationship. The displays presenting different types of microbes, their role and importance follow this essentially phylogenetical preface. Exhibits look like part of a laboratory setup and allow visitors to watch live microbes in Petri dishes by using microscopes that are connected to large screens. Also, with each exhibit there is an additional touchscreen where a visitor can watch a short film and learn all interesting facts about different groups of microbes, such as how they move, in what forms they exist, where they live, how people get exposed to them, etc.

We were enchanted by everything, and especially thrilled with some of the most interesting and most attractive exhibits within the museum: body scans, kiss-o-meter, and the story about extremophile Archea. The virtual scanner display allows visitors to see which microbes live in and on the human body and what their roles are. The kiss-o-meter shows in a fun way the number and types of microbes that two people can share with one kiss. In a separate section, a virtual 3D view of extremophiles is presented, the story of microbes living in extreme conditions where humans cannot survive.

The museum offers a lot of different stories and details. Also, in its central part, there is a real small science lab that cultures and maintains strains of microbes presented in the museum. Microbes that cause infectious diseases and microbes used in biotechnology (e.g. in the production of food products such as beer, cheese, etc.) are shown as separate exhibits. Our stay and research of the Artis Micropia museum lasted for hours because we were all thrilled and kept finding new aspects to explore and new ways to teach about microbes. At the end of the tour, everyone checked if he or she had managed to collect all the microbe’s stamps in the booklet, and there was another attempt of a joint photography, but some could not get away from the exhibits and come in front of the camera. Finally, I warmly recommend to everyone who travels to Amsterdam to take time and visit the interesting Artis Micropia micro-world.

After completing the tour of the museum, we spent the rest of the day on a tour of Amsterdam. At the evening meeting we were happy to share the impressions and ideas we had got after visiting the Micropia. The third day of our study trip was scheduled for return. Nevertheless, before we left for the airport, we managed to visit the Nemo Museum, a science museum where science is explained and presented mainly to children in a simple and fun way, primarily through interactive games. We spent last hours in a short walk, buying the last souvenirs and having a drink along the canals of beautiful Amsterdam. Our study trip ended with a joint return to Zagreb. We came back satisfied, filled with great ideas and ready to continue with our “In the Society of Microbes” project.