We recently received a sweet tip from a reader. He'd spied a diorama made of Peeps in the office of the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science and wanted to know the story behind the "exceptionally detailed and interesting" project. Since we like Peeps as much as the next guy, we agreed to take on the case.
A photo sent by the tipster revealed a clue to the project's origin story: the name "Peep Anguiano-Zarate" on a whiteboard in the diorama. A little sleuthing led us to Peep's alter ego: Stephanie Anguiano-Zarate, a graduate student in the Clinical and Translational Science Program at the Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. She told us she'd created the scene for a science-themed Peeps diorama contest. "I really like miniatures and I really like arts and crafts, and I thought this would be a good way to practice my science communication," Anguiano-Zarate, who plans to become a biomedical writer after graduation, tells us.
Anguiano-Zarate decided she'd use her Peeps to explain to nonscientists what a day in the life of a grad student was like. To do that, she created three vignettes. The first shows Anguiano-Zarate — represented by a purple Peep in each scene — creating a vaccine in a lab; the second, testing the vaccine; the third, communicating the findings of her work. "Not shown are the daily struggle and dedication, the amount of research and learning, the constant troubleshooting, and the overnight experiments that are common in a graduate student's life," she writes about the project.
The diorama itself took a fair amount of struggle, dedication and late-night effort. After learning about the contest, Anguiano-Zarate had just one week before the submission deadline. She spent every evening of that week and all day Saturday — 52 hours in total — creating her masterpiece, which includes cabinets that light up, a deliberately diverse student body, and many upcycled lab materials. Old cardboard became lab equipment and classroom chairs. A face shield became the hood in a biosafety cabinet. A lab coat turned into protective garments for the sugary scientists. Anguiano-Zarate supplemented the hand-me-downs with standard-issue craft supplies like pompoms, toothpicks and clay. Even her snacking provided material for the diorama: she used part of a Girl Scout Cookie bag to create a biohazard waste bag. (We'll call that an ironic choice.)
Anguiano-Zarate tells us she's been surprised by how enthusiastically people have responded to the diorama. "I've received emails from people who think it's cute, or impressive," she says. "People tell me it brings them a smile." (And perhaps a craving for sugar.)
You can make Anguiano-Zarate smile by helping her win the "Peeple's Choice Award." Then leave a sweet comment below before using the handy social media tools atop this page to share this story with others.