PS 22-75 - Turning algae into art: A collaboration between art and ecology students to address eutrophication in a campus lake

Tuesday, August 8, 2017
Exhibit Hall, Oregon Convention Center
David R. Bowne, Department of Biology, Elizabethtown College, Elizabethtown, PA and Kristi Arnold, Fine and Performing Arts, Elizabethtown College, Elizabethtown, PA

STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) arose from the recognition that the arts can help communicate scientific results and inspire scientists and the general public in ways that straight STEM cannot. We report on our STEAM project to address eutrophication in a campus lake by transforming overly abundant algae and duckweed into handmade paper, which students then used to create a public art installation. The overarching student learning objective was to model solving an environmental problem by transforming a negative into a positive. Elizabethtown College students in BIO313L General Ecology Laboratory and ART204 Fundamentals of Color and Design, taught by Bowne and Arnold, respectively, collaborated on the project in Fall of 2016. The semester started with both classes meeting at the campus pond, Lake Placida, to learn about eutrophication and primary production, and then harvesting duckweed and horsehair algae. The two classes met several more times during the semester to make paper, design and hang the art installation.


Ecology and art students successfully collaborated to learn about aquatic ecology, make paper, and design and create a work of art. The effort culminated in a public exhibit and reception. The project facilitated learning by both student groups on eutrophication of the campus lake, the species that turned the lake green, and why those species were so abundant. The focus on the lake additionally motivated students in and out of our classes to have lake clean-up days organized by our campus SEEDS chapter. The end of the semester art exhibit attracted a lot of attention on campus. As faculty, students, and administrators contemplated the art exhibit, they learned about the ecology of the campus lake through direct interactions with the student creators and through an informational poster. Our STEAM project thus achieved broader impacts on the college community. Everyone learned the importance of collaboration and acting creatively to address an environmental problem.