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Illinois IGB


Art of Science Gallery 13



Art of Science image titled Chthonian Explosion
Chthonian Explosion

Scientist Collaborator Danny Ryerson

IGB Outreach Group

Canon EOS 5


Balance is essential to the Earth. Elements like carbon and nitrogen are constantly moving in a giant circle from the air, into the bodies of plants and animals, and eventually back into the air. These cycles depend on tiny but vital players: microbes. In the carbon cycle, they feed on decaying plant and animal matter to release carbon dioxide, which is taken up
by plants to ultimately feed the entire food chain. In the nitrogen cycle, only microbes can convert nitrogen gas into a form that can be used by plants, again benefitting all life on Earth. Without microbes, life as we know it would cease to exist.

This piece was created using Winogradsky columns, simple experiments that illustrate the diversity
of microbial life and their ability to cycle different elements. The column can essentially be made with just pond water and mud, and over time bacteria separate out into layers based on their place in the chemical cycles. The artist has used one-year-old columns to make a Rothkoesque piece, which is characterized by rectangular regions of color. These columns can last for many years, which is perhaps unsurprising since bacteria have been fulfilling their roles in the chemical cycles for billions of years.