Arizona State University BioArt Course: from the Sonoran Desert to the Arctic
posted by Becky Ball on 17 July 2018

The science and art students from Arizona State University had a wonderful and productive visit to Kilpisjärvi Biological Station in June. The program is designed to use an multidisciplinary approach to teach university students about Arctic science through comparisons with the Sonoran Desert, where they live. The desert and the Arctic seem like vastly different places, but actually the two ecosystems are structured by very similar environmental challenges: temperature extremes, water limitation, periods of intense light and UV radiation, and poorly-developed soils with slow nutrient recycling as their resource base. The vastly different-yet-similar ecosystems of the Sonoran Desert and the Arctic make a great setting for studying the different-yet-similar fields of science and art. So often, science and art are thought of as entirely different fields, when in fact they share the same core set of skills: observation, interpretation, creativity, and communication. The stereotype of a scientist is someone analytical and boring, with no creativity or inspiration, but scientists can't design exciting new research without being creative! They need to be able to observe their surroundings from different viewpoints and think outside the box, just like an artist is trained to do. Artists also need to be analytical and take risks like scientists to develop their creative work. So, now at the conclusion of our month-long course in BioArt, we hope that the students are leaving the program as better scientists and better artists as a result of practicing both fields as they learned about Arctic science. During the course, students worked in teams of scientists and artist to hone their skills and understand Arctic ecology by comparing it to what they already know about the Sonroan Desert.

During their two weeks at Kilpisjärvi, the students conducted independent research projects in the Arctic ecosystem, and designed a creative project to communicate their science to the public. Their research ranged from topics of human impacts on bird communities, to how elevation and climate influence soil microarthropod and lichen communities, to simulating the impacts of climate change on lake phytoplankton and reindeer food resources. They are currently developing their communication of these projects, through traditional scientific posters as well as collage, video, installation art, and pottery. Their projects, both scientific and artistic, will be displayed at the public art gallery on Arizona State Unviersity's West Campus in September! You can learn more details about the course activities and students' projects at our blog:

Also during our visit at the research station, the students were able to learn quite a lot about the Arctic through the generous time given by the station scientists. We learned from local scientists about the birds, plants, ecosytsems, and people of northern Finland. The students were all touched by how friendly and supportive our Finnish hosts were throughout the program, and we couldn't have done it without the team at Kilpisjärvi Biological Station. We appreciate the support, and we look forward to seeing everyone again in summer 2019 when we bring a new group of students from Arizona to the Arctic!