Audiophile: Listen Smarter

Exploring The Fly Room and the foundation of modern genetics

An unlikely collaboration between science and art results in the re-creation of a turn-of-the-century laboratory filled with fruit flies

The fruit flies are everywhere. Thousands are trapped inside glass milk jars stuffed with gauze, while others circle the small laboratory's ceiling or gather around the shelves crammed with brass-knobbed microscopes. Three dusty wooden desks are cluttered with notepads, pencils, magnifying glasses, and metal tins of Chesterfield tobacco.

The room is undoubtedly a mess, but it's a beautifully orchestrated mess meant to replicate a laboratory that existed 100 years ago. The original lab at Columbia University, nicknamed "The Fly Room," was the home base for scientists Thomas Hunt Morgan and Calvin Bridges, among others, who conducted their famous experiments on fruit flies that laid the foundation for modern genetics.

Today's Fly Room was temporarily housed in Pioneer Works, a warehouse art space in Red Hook, Brooklyn, in New York City. It was fastidiously created by scientist-turned-filmmaker Alexis Gambis for his feature film The Fly Room, which tells the story of Betsey, the precocious daughter of geneticist Calvin Bridges, who uncovers secrets about her father while visiting his lab.

Gambis, who is also the founder and artistic director of Imagine Science Films, became obsessed with fruit flies while studying them in the lab as a PhD student at Rockefeller University. He said that the more he learned about The Fly Room and the eccentric scientists who worked there, the more he wanted to share the story with the public. A teaser of the film was shown at the Imagine Science Films Festival last fall and Gambis is submitting it to film festivals this year.

To hear about how this filmmaker got the story, and about his transition from scientist to filmmaker, listen to the podcast posted above.

Photos of The Fly Room as reconstructed in Brooklyn, N.Y., and shown to the public during the summer of 2013.

Listen to more audio explainers:

*You can also find The Week's mini podcasts on on iTunes, SoundCloud, and Swell.*

Recommended

CDC relaxes COVID-19 guidelines on quarantines, social distancing
People are urged to social distance on a golf course.
changes

CDC relaxes COVID-19 guidelines on quarantines, social distancing

California's powerful McKinney fire is causing the 'fire-breathing dragon of clouds'
The McKinney fire burns in Northern California.
natural disasters

California's powerful McKinney fire is causing the 'fire-breathing dragon of clouds'

What Biden should do about climate change
Joe Biden
Picture of Harold MaassHarold Maass

What Biden should do about climate change

Monarch butterflies listed as endangered after 'devastating decline'
A monarch butterfly on a milkweed plant flower.
save the butterflies

Monarch butterflies listed as endangered after 'devastating decline'

Most Popular

Climate, crime, and the bodies at Lake Mead
Lake Mead.
Briefing

Climate, crime, and the bodies at Lake Mead

FBI seized 11 sets of classified docs from Mar-a-Lago: WSJ
Mar-a-Lago.
'top secret'

FBI seized 11 sets of classified docs from Mar-a-Lago: WSJ

Report: FBI searched Mar-a-Lago to look for nuclear documents
Mar-a-Lago.
chilling

Report: FBI searched Mar-a-Lago to look for nuclear documents