Category Archives: Micro-Organisms of Interior Spaces


Many UVA students have the option of living off campus past their first year. Apartments and houses mean that students have access to kitchens, which have the ability to foster many microorganisms. While kitchens are already “germy” places, the habits of college students can make them even more so. The major way to combat the accumulation and growth of microorganisms is by cleaning properly. But most college students are not used to living on their own without the help of parents and are unaware of proper cleaning habits.

Some of the most common germs found in kitchens are E. coli, salmonella, and listeria. According to NSF International (an organization that provides auditing and solutions for public health), the presence of these germs is a hazard to our health. These microorganisms can cause foodborne illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that an estimated 1 out of every 6 Americans gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die due to foodborne illnesses. In a study NSF international attempted to find out what places in the kitchen harbor the most microorganisms. In the study, 20 families were asked to swab 14 common kitchen items, with jarring results. The places that harbored the most germs were refrigerator vegetable and meat compartments, blender gasket, rubber spatula and rubber-sealed food storage container. Both E. coli and salmonella were found on 25 percent of the 14 items tested – if infected with either of these, can cause mild to serious health issues.

If we had the proper equipment, we would conduct a study similar to the one discussed above. But instead, we asked each other and our fellow peers some questions pertaining to the topic of microorganisms in kitchens. Most people told us that they either use paper towels instead of sponges or have had the same sponge all year. They were shocked (and slightly disgusted) to learn that dish sponges and rags harbored many germs (according to a different 2011 NSF study). We also shared which places had the most germs (which are listed above). We found that most students seldom to never cleaned these items in the proper way. For example, most people do not know that in washing a blender, one must disassemble the entire blender to get at all the spots to clean it well. Because these items all come into direct contact with food they can easily transmit the bacteria and cause us to get sick.

I think it is important to note the grave effect that these microorganisms can have on our health as noted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s estimates. While the presence of these microorganisms is inevitable it is necessary to properly clean the spaces we live in to mitigate their effects. This seems to be a little known subject and I hope that we can raise awareness to help our fellow peers.


UVA student interviews

Post by Emma Nosseir

Microorganisms: Investigating Alderman

Microorganisms are living species that are microscopic to the naked eye. They are so small that millions of them can fit onto the head of a needle (MicrobeWorld). They are the earliest form of life on Earth, ranging from Bacteria, Archaea, Fungi, Protists, and Viruses. So where exactly are they found? The answer is everywhere. On surfaces, our hands, our food, even the air we breathe.

Thousands of students touch the same surfaces every day: door handles, computer keyboards, bathroom faucets. The simplest means of microorganism transmission is indeed our hands. Within a 30 minute time frame from 7:30-8:00pm, 18 women pushed the same door handle to the fourth floor restroom in Alderman library. In that same period of time, 31 students pressed the same elevator key to lower levels, and 76 students pushed the same spring bar on the main entrance door. We carry thousands of microorganisms on our hands and the more surfaces we touch, the more we contract and the more we leave behind (Middle School Math and Science). On average, 150 species of bacteria coexist on our hands, so imagine the number of them just present on door handles and surfaces in this library.

Now, are all of them harmful? Not at all. Microorganisms help protect our body from harmful bacteria and pathogens, produce some vitamins, aid in digestion, and can be beneficial to other organisms. Microorganisms in interior spaces can be transported indoors from the outside environment, come from human skin cells, or can develop due to moisture. Near the main entrance in Alderman library, there is increased humidity from the doors constantly opening and closing, which fosters microbial growth. The carpet also provides an area for microorganisms to accumulate from foot traffic, drink and food spills, and bodily fluid deposition (coughing and sneezing) (Leonas). Microorganisms also collect on dust particles, which can be transported by humans or remain airborne. They need water to survive, and dust particles are an excellent source of it.

Ways to manage microbial growth? Cleaning and washing your hands. Although some microorganisms are harmless, others have the ability to transmit viruses. And the presence of them is positively correlated with the number of occupants in a public space. Since microorganisms need water to survive, indoor areas that are regularly exposed to moisture should be cleaned often, such as the restrooms.

Microorganisms are responsible for recycling waste and producing energy sources such as carbon and nitrogen. These energy sources are required for other organisms to survive, including both plants and animals. Although inside, microorganisms in interior spaces, like Alderman library, still contribute to the biodiversity of the environment as a whole.

Post by Brooke Adams


Leonas, Karen. “Microorganisms in Carpet.” (2003): n. pag. Web.

“MicrobeWorld.” What Is a Microbe? American Society for Microbiology, 2014. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.

“Middle School Math and Science.” Middle School Math and Science. Ohio State University, n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.

Introduction: Where Do Microorganisms Live?

For our BioGround Blog, our group decided to focus on different interior spaces around Grounds. People always notice the organisms present outdoors by sounds and sight, but do people know about the microorganisms that live indoors? You might not realize that microbes can live on surfaces for up to one hundred years. However there are many factors that contribute to their lifespan. Factors include humidity, temperature, and the type of bacteria or virus. For example, the stomach flu, calicivirus, can live for week on clothes and household surfaces at room temperature.

While these facts might seem daunting, there are ways to prevent the spread of these microbes and to kill them. Simple ways to prevent the spreading is to wash your hands, clean surfaces, and cover your nose when you sneeze. Microbes can spread out over three feet from just one sneeze!

We want to observe areas to see where we think the most microbes live. Our idea is to interview people to see how often they clean their interior spaces as well as simply observing spaces and the traffic through them. We decided on observing different areas including but not limited to, men’s versus women’s living spaces, Clemons, Alderman, Clark, kitchens, equipment at the AFC, dorms, buses, locker rooms and study places. The things to take note in these areas include how often they are cleaned, how often certain things are touched (like door knobs) and how often people seem to sneeze or cough.

Every team member will observe one area and our blog will show the results. We will also research typical microorganisms that could be found it those areas. Ideally, we would want to take specific samples from the spaces but due to limited resources this could be a challenge. Furthermore, our hope is to find more information as to what is living amongst us.


Post by Bayley Wood



Wildlife of Your Dorm

After meeting a couple of times, our group has begun to formulate a plan as how to gain a better understanding of the interior microbial life across UVA’s Grounds. Despite constantly being in the places we hope to collect samples from, few, if any, people at UVA have knowledge of the microbial life that is around us throughout our days. Our inquiry into the indoor microscopic life of UVA was partially motivated by a project conducted by Professor Robert Dunn of North Carolina State University called The Wild Life of Our Homes. The main premise behind his project is that there is an invisible ecosystem within our homes. While Professor Dunn’s project used around 1,000 samples sent in from homes across North America, a project on this scale may not be feasible in the time we have with the resources we have.

One idea that we have come up with as a group is to collect samples from various living situations, both on-Grounds dorms and off-Grounds apartments and houses. Ideally, the dorm room samples would be collected in male and female rooms from both new dorms and old dorms. Comparing the microbiology of school maintained dorms with the student maintained apartments and houses could prove to be fairly interesting (Can college students really clean their living space?). One of the problems that may arise, however, is accessing all of the buildings and rooms in which we would want to take samples. It can be done but would most likely require coordination with resident staff and students living in those rooms.

Another idea that was actually brought up by Professor Timothy Beatley was that our team could collect samples in the libraries on Grounds. He was fairly open ended about the idea, but after thinking about it, the amount and types of people that study on each floor of each of the main libraries varies quite a bit. This plan takes less pre-planning than going to dorms and apartments. The drawbacks to this idea include the possibility that because a high volume of people frequent all the libraries that there would not be much variance in the microbiology.

Moving forward, we hope to meet and speak with Rob Dunn during his visit to UVA. We hope that he will be able to provide insight into which of our ideas he prefers or whether he has a different idea entirely. Our current goal is to get started with the sampling shortly after meeting with Professor Dunn. And as stated in the beginning, hopefully we shed light on the indoor wildlife of our university.

Post by Gregory Waldrip, Second-Year, Systems and Information Engineering