Bugscope Provides a Microscopic View at the 32nd Annual Insect Fear Film Festival

Bugscope, an outreach program supported by the Beckman Institute Microscopy Suite, will once again participate in the Insect Fear Film Festival. 

Most of us probably don’t stop to look at the tiny features of insects we encounter every day—the antennae of an ant or the compound eye of a fly.

But at the 32nd Annual Insect Fear Film Festival (IFFF), hosted by the Illinois Entomology Graduate Student Association, attendees will have the chance to see such details at the nanometer level. 

Bugscope, which first went live in March 1999, allows K–12 students to remotely control a high-resolution scanning electron microscope (SEM) located in the Microscopy Suite, which is in the basement of the Beckman Institute. Using web browsers from their own classrooms anywhere in the world, students can view, ask questions about, and get answers regarding a variety of insects and comparable arthropods such as ticks and spiders. 

At the IFFF, located in the Foellinger Auditorium on the University of Illinois campus, the Bugscope team will show up in person, bringing their own computers and monitors and helping interested visitors connect with the SEM.

“Attendees will get to control a $600,000 microscope, view insects like beetles, mites, leafcutters, flies, mosquitos, and more, and interact with both the local team and the home base at Beckman. They’ll have the ability to view whatever is in the ‘scope at high resolution,” said Scott Robinson, an original member of the Bugscope team and manager of the Microscopy Suite. “We love it when kids get to learn and ask us questions.” 

Learning about the true nature of insects while “scaring the general public with horrific films and horrific filmmaking” is the goal of the festival. 

“Insects remain the one familiar and conspicuous group that is politically correct to hate,” said May Berenbaum, who was awarded the National Medal of Science in late 2014, is the Entomology Department Head, and founded the festival in 1984. “Probably for this reason, Hollywood has shown no inclination to stop producing bad insect science fiction films either; while the effects certainly are getting better, the biology is not. As long as they keep disseminating disinformation about the most misunderstood taxon on the planet, we have an obligation to counter with the truth about insects. So it’s my fervent hope that the festival will continue—and if we manage to have fun in spreading the gospel, as it were, so much the better!” 

The IFFF is set for 6 p.m. on Saturday, February 28 at Foellinger Auditorium. In addition to the films and Bugscope, there will be face painting and an insect petting zoo. Bugscope will be set up in the foyer outside the auditorium from about 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Admission is free and all are welcome to attend. 

The theme for this year is female entomologists. Find more information about IFFF.