The word “bioephemera”

bio-, from Greek bios, life.

Everyone knows bio- in the context of biology and biochemistry, but it is also the root of biopsy, bionic, biography, and biopic.

ephemera, plural of ephemeron.

1. something transitory, lasting a brief time. The original Greek ephemeros implies a duration of a mere day.
2. a member of an order of winged insects (Ephemeroptera), including mayflies, with adult lifespans of hours to days.
3. written or printed matter with a short intended lifetime, often preserved by accident; including ads, lithographs, photographs, postage stamps, programs, labels. . . “ephemera” is a little hard to pin down. The word can also describe a record of brief occurrences, like a diary or almanac.

bioephemera is a neologism (I made it up). It’s what Lewis Carroll called a “portmanteau word.” I wanted a name that was both scientific and whimsical, because I saw my blog as a balance between those two impulses. “Bio” was easy – I’m a biologist – and I settled on “ephemera” because it captured something fundamental about the transient, always-changing nature of a blog. Because I made it up as a name, “bioephemera” is technically a proper noun, but it always seemed more true to its definition to leave it uncapitalized.

The word bioephemera evokes a wide swath of this blog’s subject matter. “Ephemera” describes records like diaries or almanacs, the precursors of blogs; artifacts like posters and advertisements, which reflect social understandings of science; and short-lived species, like insects, that figure prominently in my artwork. Importantly, ephemeral doesn’t mean trivial. From an evolutionary perspective, both individual organisms and entire species are ephemeral. Much wonderful art and design will never make it into a museum’s permanent collection, from ads to T-shirts to graffiti; its ephemeral nature is part of its fascination. Finally, the art ecosystem, like a biological ecosystem, the sprawling internet, or a scientific paradigm, is itself ephemeral: always changing and being redefined. bioephemera reflects that dynamic.