Biology Students Contribute to Water Exhibition at Utah Museum of Fine Arts

Biology students at great salt lake

May 10, 2021

by Arikka Von, Dir. Strategic Communication

SALT LAKE CITY—Where does water in Salt Lake Valley come from? Where does it end up? Two Westminster biology students helped examine and visualize these important questions for an exhibition currently on display at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts at the University of Utah.

Just as Utah enters an extreme drought, the Confluence exhibition explores the essential component of our daily life. From mountain streams to Great Salt Lake, the exhibition illuminates the idea of water—environmentally, culturally, and historically.

Westminster biology students Anna Jackson (’21) and Sierra Watson (’21) created Winogradsky columns for the exhibition to demonstrate the extreme variations in salinity throughout Great Salt Lake. The seniors have spent countless hours at the lake doing field research for Westminster’s Great Salt Lake Institute.

Student standing at great salt lake

Student taking a lake sample

Confluence lake exhibit

Anna and Sierra collected water and soil samples from the North Arm, South Arm, and Farmington Bay. The samples were combined in three separate columns, kept in sunlight to promote growth, then sealed—making them a closed system for display at the museum.

“The Farmington Bay column shows the bounty of life in freshwater systems,” Anna says. “The North Arm column is stained pink from microscopic halophiles. Microbial mats are growing up the side of this column. These mats are the earliest form of life on Earth.”

“There is always more to notice about these columns, and that's their beauty,” adds Sierra. “The more you notice, the more questions you ask. Some you can answer and some you can't, but at least it gets you thinking.”

The students say the project further shatters stereotypes of who scientists are and what they are capable of.

“You might think of an old white guy in a lab coat, tucked away, secluded by his unapproachable wealth of knowledge. I've learned that this is not the case,” Anna says.  “I don't have to be only 'scientific'. I can be creative. I love art, and our work being in an art museum gives it both validity and a platform. How cool is that? To be put on display in an actual art museum! We get to share what we know and the work that we love with those within and outside of the scientific community.”

The exhibition combines perspectives from Seven Canyons Trust, Framework Arts, saltfront, Great Salt Lake Institute at Westminster College, Natural History Museum of Utah, Ute Spiritual Leader Larry Cesspooch, and UMFA that highlight our diverse relationship with water.

Confluence Exhibition UMFA

Confluence is part of Think Water Utah, a statewide collaboration and conversation on the critical topic of water presented by Utah Humanities and its partners. The exhibition is presented in the ACME Lab, an innovative space in the museum’s Emma Eccles Jones Education Center dedicated to community engagement and art experimentation.

Confluence is on view February 18–December 4 at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. Learn more:

Media Contacts

Arikka Von

About Westminster

Westminster is a private, independent, and comprehensive college in Salt Lake City, Utah. Students experience the liberal arts blended with professional programs in an atmosphere dedicated to civic engagement. With the goal of enabling its graduates to live vibrant, just, and successful lives, Westminster provides transformational learning experiences for both undergraduate and graduate students in a truly student-centered environment. Faculty focus on teaching, learning, and developing distinctive, innovative programs, while students thrive on Westminster’s urban Sugar House campus within minutes of the Rocky Mountains.

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