May 2013

“What is a Germ?” Challenge results

the What Is a Germ 2013 trophy

After months of anticipation and work, the winner of the 2013 ASBMB “What is a Germ?” Challenge was named during the 2013 Experimental Biology meeting held last month in Boston.
The winning entry, titled “The Journey to the Germ,” was submitted by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s Undergraduate Affiliates Network chapter at Suffolk University:

The students who put together the winning video were motivated by a desire to “help explain what [we] do in the lab to everyone else out there,” said Suffolk student Kyle Swerdlow.
The rules for the contest were simple: use any format to explain what a germ is. The ASBMB partnered with the Cambridge Science Festival to advertise the challenge and solicit entries. More than 30 submissions were received from entrants across the country. These entries were subsequently farmed out to elementary-school classrooms in the greater Boston area, where students scored each one based on a light-hearted but pithy set of criteria, including how much they learned about germs from the entry and whether or not the entry was interesting.
In their winning video, the Suffolk students describe how germs operate in different settings, explaining the differences between “good” germs and “bad” germs by sending viewers on a journey throughout the human body, navigated by host “Antibody Bob.” To punctuate their message, the students dressed up as life-size versions of rhinovirus, athlete’s foot and the intestinal bacterium E. coli, each of whom explained its respective role in the disease process.

Winners of the 2013 What Is a Germ challenge 
Participants in the 2013 “What Is a Germ?“ challenge, left to right: Azul Pinochet Barros, Kyle Swerdlow (both Suffolk University undergrads and ASBMB UAN members), Celeste Peterson (Suffolk University UAN Faculty Advisor).

In second place came a surprisingly sophisticated entry from Simran Chandawarkar, an 11-year-old who learned about the event during a visit to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Museum, sponsor of the Cambridge Science Festival. (Also competing was Simran’s younger sister Roshni, whose entry was also a judges’ favorite). The elder Chanawarkar’s PowerPoint presentation featured the characters Mr. Brain and Dr. Piggywig explaining to protagonist Oinky why he is sick, using stylish rhyming couplets. Click on the sick Oinky below to see the presentation. 


Third place went to Crystal Tobin Magle for her lucidly compact description of how bacteria and viruses work:


Finalists received their prizes during the Cambridge Science Festival’s “Curiosity Challenge,” held on the MIT campus. Nearly 150 event attendees were present for the ceremony, which featured awards for each finalist as well as a special display that presented each finalist’s entry for public viewing.
To see all of the entries for the 2013 ASBMB “What is a Germ?” Challenge, head over to the ASBMB meeting blog, The Interactome.

Geoff HuntGeoff Hunt ( is ASBMB’s outreach coordinator. Follow him on Twitter at

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