Although microbes directly impact everyone's health, most people have limited knowledge about them. In this article, we describe a museum and media public education campaign aimed at helping diverse audiences better understand emerging knowledge about microbes and infectious disease. Funded primarily by the Science Education Partnership (SEPA) program of the National Institutes of Health, this campaign involved crosscutting programs designed to extend impacts throughout a broad public audience. Collaborations with partners from public media, libraries, science education, the social sciences, and biomedical research centers extended our outreach to local and national audiences of adults and youth. Our campaign developed programs for radio broadcast, schools, libraries, museums, and publishers to ultimately reach over eight million people. In addition, we conducted a series of research studies focused on understanding the mental models that people create of the complex concepts of microbes and infectious disease and on how to engage hard-to-reach adolescents with this science content. These studies furthered our understanding of how people reason about unseen phenomena, the kinds of materials that might intrigue youth who claim little interest in science, and how to begin to combat misinformation pervasive in this field. Our comparisons of expert, teacher, and teen reasoning about microbes revealed their distinct mental models on the topics of infection, vaccination, and immune response. Our investigation of comics confirmed their power to motivate teenagers to want to read more about science. Across all levels of science identity, we found that youth were more engaged with the comics than with comparable essays. Together, these findings provide insights into how to educate a diverse public about emerging biomedical research.
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