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Lake Effect: how Great Salt Lake brings science and art together

A grayscale picture of Bonnie Baxter. She is standing outside, smiling at the camera. Blurred trees are in the background.

My name is Bonnie Baxter. I am a professor of biology at Westminster College and I'm the director of Great Salt Lake Institute. I've worked on a variety of questions, but most of them involving the microbial life, the foundation of the Great Salt Lake ecosystem.

One of the reasons the lake is pink in the north arm is these special pigments that the microbes that live there have, that are carotenoids named after carrots because carrots also have them. And whenever UV light hits these microbes, these pigments sort of absorb all the free oxygen radicals that could damage their cells.

We started Great Salt Lake Institute in order to help support research and education on the lake. And I come from a science background, but I have to tell you, some of the most interesting times at the lake have been with artists.

We just wrote a chapter on our work for a book, and one of the things we thought about was how art is subservient to science, and they should be there on equal fronts. So, science can figure out what's going on, but art can reach people. And I think that the two really need to work together to solve problems.

We were really looking to engage art students and science students at Great Salt Lake in ways that were wholly equal. Like, we had dancers go do research at the tar seeps, and then those dancers came up with this incredibly emotional dance about the pelicans getting stuck in the seeps while our biology students were exploring trail camera photographs of the pelicans actually getting stuck and trying to understand that process.

The lake calls scientists, it calls artists, it calls poets. And it's just a very special place.

Aimee Van Tatenhove is a science reporter at UPR. She spends most of her time interviewing people doing interesting research in Utah and writing stories about wildlife, new technologies and local happenings. She is also a PhD student at Utah State University, studying white pelicans in the Great Salt Lake, so she thinks about birds a lot! She also loves fishing, skiing, baking, and gardening when she has a little free time.
Ellis Juhlin is a science reporter here at Utah Public Radio and a Master's Student at Utah State. She studies Ferruginous Hawk nestlings and the factors that influence their health. She loves our natural world and being part of wildlife research. Now, getting to communicate that kind of research to the UPR listeners through this position makes her love what she does even more. In her free time, you can find her outside on a trail with her partner Matt and her goofy pups Dodger and Finley. They love living in a place where there are year-round adventures to be had!