Joe Davis


Pamela Ferdinand wrote, "Davis eschews the art versus science argument, insisting that he speaks both languages and could not possibly tear the two disciplines apart in his own mind.", The Washington Post[3]



  Genesthetics: Molecular Biology and Microbiology in the Arts
Joe Davis, is a research affiliate in the Department of Biology at MIT. He "is an artist who has done extensive research in molecular biology and bioinformatics for the production of genetic databases and new biological art forms. He has also constructed sculptural installation pieces, working with laser fabrication in plastics, steel, and stone; laser teleoperator systems; and structural welding in mild steel. His teaching experience in the MIT graduate architecture program (Master of Science in Visual Studies) and in undergraduate painting and mixed media at the Rhode Island School of Design has informed his artistic practice. He has exhibited in the United States, Canada, and Europe at Ars Electronica."[2]



Recent works include:

  • Microvenus (embeded artwork in a bacterial genome)
  • Audio Microscope (a microscope that translates light information into sound allowing you to "hear" living cells, each with its own "aucustic signature."
  • Experiments with how E. coli respond to jazz, and other sounds, with Andrew Zaretsky - "the project is not too far afield from the work of the Demain lab, which concerns itself more with microbiology and the production of secondary metabolites such as antibiotics by bacteria. If the sound waves prove stressful to the bacteria, the stress might result in increased production of antibiotics, according to Zaretsky."[5]
  • Putting a map of the Milky Way into the ear of a transgenic mouse - "inspired in this project by a children’s story an ex-girlfriend wrote eight years ago. He has taken the map of the Milky Way and reduced that information to sequence of 3,867 DNA base pairs. He has an agreement with Millenium Pharmaceuticals to synthesize the DNA sequence in 100 base pair chunks."[5]
  • "‘primordial’ clocks, his own test of theory that life spontaneously self-assembled. To Davis, if life could assemble from simple molecules, so could clocks, a much simpler system."[5]
  • "For seven years he championed a space shuttle experiment that would have shot a 100,000-watt electron gun into the magnetosphere to create the first artificial aurora..."
  • "...ways to make artistic use of high-voltage electricity and spacebound signals. In the early 1980s, he drew up plans for channeling lightning bolts into a pulsed laser of almost unparalleled energy and into towering sculptures that would change the bolts' color and emit incredibly loud tones..."
  • "recorded the vaginal contractions of ballerinas with the Boston Ballet and other women, then translated this impetus of human conception into text, music, phonetic speech and ultimately into radio signals, which were beamed from MIT's Millstone radar to Epsilon Eridani, Tau Ceti, and two other nearby star systems.
    ... and more.[6-11]

From a recent Nightline interview:

"What kind of project would an artist-in-residence at MIT come up with?" asked ABC "Nightline" Executive Producer Leroy Sievers. The July 6 broadcast featured a report by Robert Krulwich on Joe Davis, research affiliate in the Department of Biology and included a look at Davis' paramecium fishing contraption -- deep sea fishing equipment mechanically rigged to a drop of pond water. "[Davis] comes up with all sorts of ideas that no one ever thought of before, and then enlists the considerable brain power there to turn them into reality," said Sievers. "I've always believed that part of our job as journalists is to take people places they've never been, and to show them things they've never seen," he continued. "I guarantee you that you have never seen anything like this before."[4]

  Profile: Art as a Form of Life
  Audio microscope

a microscope that translates light information into sound allowing you to "hear" living cells, each with its own "aucustic signature."


art embeded in a bacterial genome

  ArtSci2001 conference keynote



  Gibbs, Wayt,W. Art as a Form of Life, Scientific American, April 2001