Biotic brilliance: AI, art, and biology unite for Iowa’s prof!


  • An assistant professor at Iowa State University is using artificial intelligence (AI) to manipulate bacteria and create visually appealing patterns.
  • Through the use of robotics, AI, and biology, the professor and his art collective have created “Beauty: A Machine-Microbial Artwork.”
  • This project aims to challenge traditional notions of beauty and spark conversations about art, technology, and biology.

In 2019, Johnny DiBlasi, an assistant professor at Iowa State University, formed an art collective called “Phylum” with Bello Bello and Carlos Castellanos. The collective’s latest project, “Beauty: A Machine-Microbial Artwork,” combines AI, art, and biology to create visually captivating patterns using bacteria.

The process involves manipulating bacteria by adding a solution to a petri dish with an active bacteria culture that either attracts or repels future growth. The placement of the solution is determined by an AI model that analyzes the bacteria’s growth patterns.

DiBlasi’s bacteria patterns are currently on display in an exhibition titled “Beauty Investigated: Dilemmas, Projects and Promises,” curated by Ingrid Lilligren, a professor of art and visual culture. The exhibition aims to challenge traditional notions of beauty and spark conversations about the intersection of art, technology, and biology.

While some viewers may find the artwork beautiful, others, like Agustin Oropeza, a junior majoring in industrial design, interpret beauty differently. Oropeza expresses a preference for “weird things” that deviate from conventional definitions of beauty.

The exhibition is open at the College of Design in gallery 181 until February 22, providing visitors with an opportunity to explore and engage with the concept of beauty from various perspectives.