Coccus Pocus 2020: a microbiology-inspired scary story competition

Posted on April 21, 2021   by Dr Georgios Efthimiou

In October 2020, the Department of Biomedical and Forensic Sciences at the University of Hull launched an exciting scary story competition for Halloween: Coccus Pocus 2020! The event was organised for a second time, following a successful trial run in 2019.  Read this blog to find out more about this year's competition. 

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For 2020’s Coccus Pocus competition, the scary stories focused on biofilms and antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Biofilms are the thick, slimy layers formed on various surfaces by pathogenic microbes. These biofilms protect against antibiotics, detergents and the attacks from the immune system. In addition, increases in AMR in harmful micro-organisms is a major public health concern, as it is leading to a huge increase in untreatable, life-threatening infections, especially in hospital environments. 

The competition was supported by the National Biofilms Innovation Centre as part of their #BiofilmAware campaign, which is all about helping people to understand what biofilms are and why they are so important.  

Four academics and researchers from other UK universities kindly offered to act as Coccus Pocus Ambassadors, communicating the event at their institutions: Dr Morgan Feeney from the University of Strathclyde, Dr Leena Kerr from Heriot-Watt University, Dr Nadia Andreani from the University of Lincoln and Mr Giridhar Chandrasekharan from the University of Warwick. The event was also advertised via Twitter and received very good comments. 

Contestants were encouraged to write a short horror or sci-fi story between 500 and 2,000 words, including themes of antimicrobial resistance and/or microbial biofilms. The evaluation committee ranked stories according to the intrigue of their plot, use of language, character description and scientific soundness.  

First prize was awarded to Farhana Alam Burnett, a microbiology PhD student at the University of Birmingham. Her thrilling story, Persisters, is about a domestic fungal biofilm that does much more than smelling bad! Download and read Farhana's story below:


Amisha Sathi, an undergraduate from the University of Warwick received the second prize for her story Abnormal, where the protagonist fights a horde of slimy hostile creatures in a post-apocalyptic horror setting. Download and read Amisha's story below:


Finally, Bethany Pearce, again an undergraduate student from the University of Warwick was awarded the third prize for her story Day 0, which tells us a tale about a patient suffering from an antibiotic-resistant superbug infection that spreads rapidly all over the hospital. Download and read Bethany's story below:

Day 0

Coccus Pocus was also advertised to several secondary schools, with a separate category for 12–17 years-old pupils; however, there were no entries from that age group this year (perhaps they were too shy).  

We aspire that the competition will be held again and again around the country and even abroad (we actually received a few entries from continental Europe this year), aiming to increase public awareness about the important problem of AMR and biofilms and boost the enthusiasm of young people about the fascinating field of microbiology. 

Coccus Pocus will run again in October 2021. Can you think of any biofilm or AMR-related scary stories? Would you like to be one of our Coccus Pocus Ambassadors? And…which university or school will claim our next trophy? 

Read all about Coccus Pocus 2019 in this blog.