Skip to main content

Wisconsin teachers converge on Madison in search of antibiotics

January 5, 2018 By Eric Hamilton

Instructors from eight UW System schools and more than a dozen other colleges and universities are taking a week out of their January break to meet in Madison in search of a crucial discovery — antibiotics.

From Jan. 8 to Jan. 12, the instructors will be trained to join the Small World Initiative (SWI), an educational, crowdsourced search for new antibiotics. Founded by Wisconsin Institute of Discovery director Jo Handelsman, the SWI gives students experience in real-world laboratory techniques while they search for soil-dwelling bacteria that might produce the next antibiotic.

After intensive training, the instructors will return to their institutions to become active partners in the program by adding the curriculum to their introductory biology courses.

Chock full of time in the lab, the SWI training will teach instructors how to isolate bacteria from soil samples and analyze them for potential new antibiotics. Two-thirds of antibiotics have been isolated from soil-dwelling microbes. The training will take place at the Discovery Building, 330 N. Orchard St.

The new Wisconsin partner institutions include five 4-year and three 2-year UW System schools, five technical colleges, Marian University and the College of the Menominee Nation. UW–Madison joined the SWI last fall. Instructors from three historically black colleges and universities, one Hispanic-serving institution and a Minnesota tribal college will also attend the training.

They join existing partners encompassing more than 250 schools across 38 states, Puerto Rico and 14 countries.

For opportunities to interview instructors and observe lab experiments, contact SWI Executive Director Sam Rikkers at (608) 316-4649 or

The participating Wisconsin schools are: UW–Parkside, UW–Eau Claire, UW–Green Bay, UW–River Falls, UW–Whitewater, UW–Fond du Lac, UW–Waukesha, UW–Rock County, Northeast Technical College, Northcentral Technical College, Madison College, Milwaukee Area Technical College, Marian University and the College of the Menominee Nation.