Algae. To some, that word might conjure unpleasant images of an algal bloom in a lake or an infestation inside their swimming pool. But to biologists and environmental scientists from FIU’s School of Environment, Arts and Society, diatoms – a major group of algae – are an expression of past and present environmental conditions and an opportunity to showcase nature’s beauty in its purest form.
The scientists have teamed up with artists from the Tropical Botanic Artists collective for the second time to highlight the beauty of the aquatic microorganism with the exhibit “In Deep with Diatoms” currently on display at the FIU Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum. Together, they are adding to a long and rich tradition of artists drawing inspiration from Florida’s environment.
“My lab uses diatoms to tell the history of sea level rise and water quality in the Everglades and coastal Florida. They are also used worldwide in water quality assessment,” says Evelyn Gaiser, interim executive dean of SEAS and professor of biological sciences.
Diatoms can be found in oceans, freshwater, soils and on damp surfaces. Fossil evidence suggest they originated during or before the early Jurassic Period more than 145 million years ago and there are currently 100,000 species in existence.
Gaiser adds, “It’s important to communicate science through art, this exhibit allows us to do that and reach diverse audiences.”
The artists visited Gaiser’s lab, the Periphyton Group, and went through their Diatom Image Database to find local species they wanted to work on. The artists then worked together with students and technicians from the FIU Florida Costal Everglades Long Term Ecological Research Program to select the best images and compose the species descriptions that accompany each art work.
“In Deep with Diatoms” features the colorful paintings in a variety of mediums, including watercolor on paper and mixed media on paper, as well as sculptures created by Xavier Cortada, FIU artist in residence in the College of Architecture + The Arts.
The exhibit will run until Sat., Feb. 22. An opening reception is scheduled for Sat., Feb. 14 at 4 p.m. A panel discussion is scheduled for Wed., Feb. 18 at 5 p.m. All events are free and open to the public.