Vibrant symbiosis: Achieving reciprocal science outreach through biological art

PLoS Biol. 2018 Nov 30;16(11):e3000061. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3000061. eCollection 2018 Nov.


Scientific outreach efforts traditionally involve formally trained scientists teaching the general public about the methods, significance, and excitement of science. We recently experimented with an alternative "symbiotic outreach" model that prioritizes building a reciprocal relationship between formally trained and "outsider" scientists to facilitate active two-way communication. Herein, we present the results of our outreach effort involving college students and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities working together to make biological and multimedia art. By discussing the steps others can take to cultivate reciprocal outreach within their local communities, we hope to lower the barrier for widespread adoption of similar approaches and ultimately to decrease the gap between formally trained scientists and the general public.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Art
  • Communication
  • Community-Institutional Relations / trends
  • Education of Intellectually Disabled / methods*
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Science / education*
  • Students
  • Universities
  • Young Adult

Grant support

We are grateful to Haverford College and the John B. Hurford '60 Center for the Arts and Humanities for funding that made this project possible. We also acknowledge generous support from the National Science Foundation CAREER Award (; CHE-1652424 to LKC). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.