Algal bloom poetry book takes science from laboratory literary

By on May 17, 2013
Bloom included prints; diagrams and thoughts from a lab notebook; and a poem written by Halliday. (Credit: Janine Wong)

Scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution converted their work from laboratory to literary, creating an algal bloom poetry book, according to the WHOI publication Oceanus.

Elizabeth Halliday, a WHOI oceanographer, and Sophie Clayton, a graduate student working a WHOI, partnered with artist Janine Wong to create a book of illustration and prose all about single celled organisms drifting in the sea.

The poems weave technicality with alliteration, rhythm and, of course, phytoplankton.  They describe the single-celled organisms as free drifting entities under the control of nature’s forces, while explaining aspects of diatom production and respiration. 

Below is an excerpt taken from the release:

“Planktos, meaning ‘wanderer’ or ‘drifter,’ gives name to billions of cells
moving at the mercy of great currents. Tossed and turned in the ocean,
phytoplankton pump the lungs of the earth
sponging up raw solar energy and carbon dioxide to produce
half the oxygen in our every breath, and the very scent of the sea.

The phytoplankton are not alone in their wanderings.
Within a single teaspoon of seawater, bear witness to the battle:
fifty million viruses, attacking
five million bacteria, reacting, and interacting
with fifty thousand phytoplankton, bent on survival.

As daylight contracts, winter’s cold waters are roiled by storms
superimposed on the typical turbulence of eddies and gyres.
The phytoplankton rest.
Awaiting the sun, they anticipate a new season
in waters redolent with potential for growth.”

The project was part of the Synergy Project to combine art and science.

Image: Bloom included prints; diagrams and thoughts from a lab notebook; and a poem written by Halliday. (Credit: Janine Wong)


  1. Shawna

    May 20, 2013 at 9:03 pm

    I want this book. How do I get it?

  2. Austen Verrilli

    May 21, 2013 at 10:09 am

    Hi Shawna,

    I just called Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and, unfortunately, it seems this was a one off book. It will be displayed at the Museum of Science in Boston though June 3.

    I did try to convince them to get some photo copies online, but who knows if that will happen!

    • Shawna

      May 22, 2013 at 7:37 pm

      Thanks 🙁 I’ll keep an eye out for excerpts online.

      • Austen Verrilli

        May 28, 2013 at 12:03 pm


        There are some excerpts on WHOI’s site at this url:

      • James Stroud

        May 17, 2016 at 1:43 pm


        I am the master printer and publisher of Janine Wong’s Bloom book. It was indeed a ‘one off’ unique artist book so there are not any copies available. The Special Collections curator at MIT has expressed interest in purchasing it for the collection. If it goes there (a prefect home for it) Janine and I will scan each page of text and image and post it on her website for public access to it.

        Thank you for your interest in this beautiful project.

        James Stroud, Director, Center Street Studio

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