Dr. Scott Chimileski

Assistant Professor of Microbiology

Department: Natural Science
Programs: Biology, Human Health and the Environment


Academic Background

2015–2019 | Harvard Medical School | Postdoctoral Fellowship in Microbiology & Imaging, Kolter Lab
2015 | University of Connecticut | PhD in Genetics and Genomics
2008 | University of Connecticut | BA in Biological Sciences, Minors in English and Molecular Cell Biology



I am a microbial scientist, photographer, author and educator fascinated by the endless biodiversity of of bacteria, archaea, fungi, slime molds and microscopic animals. I write “endless” because microbial ecologists have estimated that there could be one trillion unique microbial species on Earth!

My specific research specialties within microbiology are the social or multicellular aspects of microbial science. Biologists once thought of bacteria and other “unicellular” organisms as solitary creatures, however now we appreciate that they are highly interactive organisms that live in multicellular communities, communicate with one another, cooperate, compete, and coordinate to engage in collective behaviors. In fact, most bacteria in nature live within structured multi-species communities called biofilms, encased in a complex extracellular matrix. Biofilms are just one of these many interrelated “emergent properties” of microbes.

I also have a background and continued interest in a diverse group of microbes called archaea. Just a few decades ago, scientists did not even know that archaea existed as a separate evolutionary group, because they appear superficially similar to bacterial cells. But starting in the 1970s, genetic studies revealed that the domain Archaea is one of the three major evolutionary divisions of life on Earth, together with Bacteria and Eukarya. Many archaea are considered “extremophiles” because they live in environments that would kill almost any other life form. During my doctoral research at the University of Connecticut, I focused on horizontal gene transfer mechanisms and biofilm formation in salt-loving archaea (AKA halophilic archaea or haloarchaea) during my doctoral research.

Beyond my research areas, I often think and write about “big picture” connections between microbial organisms and the biosphere. A major goal of my teaching, writing and photography is to highlight the beauty and biology of microbes far and wide, and the ways that they are interconnected with larger organisms. This includes the diverse microbiome that we all have on and within our own bodies. (About half of “you” is microbial by cell count, believe it or not, and we are even more microbial in terms of the genetic information that the microbiome contains.) Microbes were the first organisms at the origin of life and they conditioned the early planet, making it possible for plants and animals to arise. And microbial life continues to be the support system for the biosphere, mediating global biogeochemical cycles and forming the foundation of the entire food web.


Courses taught

🍃 BIO 101 Intro Biology
🧬 BIO 102 Intro Biology II
🔬 BIO 199 Exploring Biology
🦠 BIO 376 Environmental Microbiology
🌎 BIO 499 Bioremediation


Expertise and creative & scholarly activities

  •  I am a Guest Curator at the Harvard Museum of Natural History (HMNH). My postdoctoral advisor Roberto Kolter and I spearheaded and developed the Microbial Life exhibition there, which remains open through March 2021. We also created a photography exhibition originally launched at the HMNH in 2017 called World in a Drop: Photographic Explorations of Microbial Life, which has so far traveled to the Eden Project in the UK, Danish Technical University in Denmark, Montevideo Street Expo in Uruguay, Parque Explora in Colombia, and several universities in China. The exhibition has also traveled to the California Institute of Technology and George Washington University and now in Freer Science Hall at PSC!
  • I am an award-winning photographer and invited expert prominent in the niche genre of microbial science photography. My images have been published by TIME Magazine, Wired,The Atlantic, STAT, The Scientist, NPR, Natural History, Scientific American, Smithsonian Magazine, Fast Company, The Biologist, HHMI, PNAS, Tangled Bank Studios, Quanta Magazine, the NIH Director’s Blog, WBUR Boston, Wellcome Trust, Seeker, The Verge, TED Talks, and CBS. In 2018, one of my photographs was the cover of El Espectador, the oldest newspaper in Colombia!
  • I am an avid microscopist and lifelong student of microscopy, trained in light, fluorescence, confocal and scanning electron microscopy. Specifically, I have trained in microscopy and imaging at the Center for Biofilm Engineering of Montana State University as a visiting researcher in 2012, and during my postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School through the Center for Nanoscale Systems at Harvard University.
  • My portfolio and catalog of microbial science photography can be found on my website: http://microbephotography.com/
  • For a multimedia feature on my research field and work as an imaging specialist, I recommend “The Beautiful Intelligence of Microbes” by John Rennie at Quanta Magazine.
  • I have contributed original images and scientific interpretation for several other major science exhibitions, including Bacterial World at the Museum of Natural History at the University of Oxford in Oxford, UK, The World Unseen: Intersections of Art and Science at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) Museum in Georgia, Unsustainable: A Planet of Crisis at the Ewing Gallery of Art & Architecture of the University of Tennessee, Microvida at Parque Explora in Colombia, and Community of Microbes first seen at the Cooper Union in New York City.
  • I am a Review Editor for Biology of Archaea at the Journal Frontiers in Microbiology.
  • Public speaking: I have given talks at events related to my research, book and photography for audiences across the U.S. and internationally. I maintain a list of past and current events on my personal website.
  • Through my scientific and creative endeavors, I have explored (and continue to explore) unique ecosystems and microbial sites across the planet. I have explored for photography expeditions and field work, many parts of British Columbia, Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, Glacier National Park in Montana, and Capitol Reef National Park in Utah. I’ve also traveled to the village of Delft in the Netherlands where microbes were first discovered, and to the UK, Colombia, Italy, China, Switzerland and Greece.





Peer-reviewed articles

  • Kolter R, Chimileski S (2018) The end of microbiology. Environmental Microbiology 20:6
  • Chimileski S, Franklin MJ, Papke RT (2014) Biofilms formed by the archaeon Haloferax volcanii exhibit social motility and cellular differentiation, and facilitate horizontal gene transfer. BMC Biology 12:65
  • Chimileski S, Dolas K, Naor A, Gophna U, Papke RT (2014) Extracellular DNA metabolism in Haloferax volcanii. Front. Microbiol. 5:57
  • Zerulla K, Chimileski S, Näther D, Gophna U, Papke RT, Soppa J (2014) DNA as a phosphate storage polymer and the alternative advantages of polyploidy for growth or survival. PLOS ONE 9(4)
  • Ouellette M, Jackson L, Chimileski S, Papke RT (2015) Genome-wide DNA methylation analysis of Haloferax volcanii H26 and identification of DNA methyltransferase related PD-(D/E)XK nuclease family protein HVO_A0006. Front. Microbiol. 6:251
  • Chimileski S, Papke RT (2015) Getting a hold on archaeal type IV pili: an expanding repertoire of cellular appendages implicates complex regulation and diverse functions. Front. Microbiol. 6:362

3D model

Scientific animation/script writing

Doctoral thesis

  • Chimileski S (2015) Social features of an archaeon: biofilm formation, social motility, eDNA metabolism and gene transfer in Haloferax volcanii. University of Connecticut Doctoral Dissertations. 847.
Book chapter
  • Papke RT, Chimileski S (2012) Gene transfer mechanisms, population genetics and the evolution of haloarchaea, in Advances in Understanding the Biology of Halophilic Microorganisms. Vreeland R (ed.)



  • 2019 | BioArt Award, Federation of Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB)
  • 2018 | PROSE Award in Biological Sciences for Life at the Edge of Sight
  • 2018 | British Medical Association (BMA) Award for Life at the Edge of Sight
  • 2017 | BioArt Award, Federation of Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB)
  • 2016 | Passion in Science Award for Arts and Creativity, New England Biolabs
  • 2016 | BioArt Award, Federation of Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB)
  • 2014 | Antonio H. and Marjorie J. Romano Graduate Fellowship in Microbiology
  • 2014 | Naturejobs writing competition winner; invited contributor at blogs.nature.com




Contact »

Freer Science Hall, Room 119