Tracy Debenport’s educational art showcases the inspirational creative properties of mould

Today, Tracy specialises in conducting research on fungi (specifically moulds, yeasts and mushrooms), as well as working with pathogens and beneficial microbes, primarily relating to agriculture. Her artistic pieces are often created in the spur of the moment, when certain microbes grow to produce “unexpected patterns or compositions,” she explains. “In those moments, I’m inspired by their beauty and have to document it immediately.” At other points, Tracy will work towards a specific structure she has in mind. This will involve piecing together a composition by “preparing slides, experimenting with stains and editing to produce microbial ‘glamour shots’.” Either way, the same goal remains: “to create images that make these incredible organisms relatable in a positive way.”
The last thing you might expect to hear from a microbiologist is an explanation on the creative properties of mould, but this is exactly the conversation you’re likely to have with Tracy Debenport. A unique practitioner working at the intersection of science and art, Tracy fuses the two together by sharing the aesthetic qualities of her lab work via photography and design. Opening up her specific area of study to new and growing audiences, Tracy can trace back this practice to her first role at a plant pathology lab at Cornell University. “It was the first time that I worked with fungi and when I saw Aspergillus flavus (a pathogenic mould) under the microscope, I fell in love,” she tells It’s Nice That.
When looked at in detail, Aspergillus flavus didn’t present the likely image of mould you may have in your mind. Instead its properties created “beautiful, delicate structures” – the kind that reminded Tracy of flowers and peacock feathers, “stunning features that I would never have associated with the word mould,” she admits. “All of a sudden I related to this organism in a whole new way. I was so inspired and couldn’t wait to share this discovery with my family and friends.” Tracy’s scientifically creative practice grew from this sentiment, creating a process “dedicated to highlighting the beauty of these microbes – especially moulds – and inspiring curiosity.”