Cheryl Kerfeld featured in MSU President's 2015 Report

  • May 17, 2016
  • Kerfeld lab
  • Department of Energy Projects
  • By Igor Houwat
Zooming into the world of cyanobacteria.

Little did Cheryl Kerfeld know that when she got a phone inquiry into her research last fall, she was being interviewed as a prospective profile for Lou Anna Simon’s 2016 President’s Report.

The recently released document promotes Michigan State University’s research abilities in a series of short video pieces. The focus is on those researchers anticipating future challenges and creating solutions towards a sustainable, healthier, better nourished, and safer world in such areas as bioenergy, food security, and public health, among others.

Kerfeld’s video, seen below, introduces her lab’s contributions to the development of sustainable energy sources and other “green” commodities by bioengineering microbes, tiny organisms such as microscopic algae that use solar energy and CO2 as raw materials.

Kerfeld is one of those scientists that puts much effort into communicating with a general audience. The need is pertinent in her field of synthetic biology which is rife with public misinformation; the resulting fears have led to the conjuring of dystopian futures in popular imagination – think miniature robots invading our bodies and streaming through our blood vessels to get a picture of what has been dreamt up.

These nightmares are far from reality. The discipline is much simpler and rests on finding parallels between engineering principles and the inner workings of living systems.  And of course, much trial and error in the lab. “It is important to show how synthetic biology works,” Kerfeld says,” in order for it to be accepted and seen for the good it can do by the public.”

A little known fact is that Kerfeld has Masters and Bachelors degrees in English literature, which very likely helps her in communicating her work. Her style relies on an abundance of vivid metaphors that depict the invisible architectures built in the Kerfeld Lab in graspable macroscale terms.

In fact, the piece turned out so polished that the President’s Office had people phoning in to see if she was really a scientist and not an actor.  See for yourselves. 

Go here for the 2015 President's Report website.