Linking Water Patterns to Water Quality Through Microscopy & Art

SciArt is not a new concept since both artists and scientists have always aimed to explore their environment and understand it through their respective mediums. Julie Askew’s fascinating work is natural science-based and aims to encourage conservation. She uses stereo microscopy to visualize ecology and her current research is focusing on water.

Julie Askew

Julie Askew has an extensive background in scientific illustration and fine art. Her PhD with Bath Spa University is an interdisciplinary science and art research project, examining and interpreting water patterning and its potential application in the environmental and physical sciences, focusing on Glaciology and Polar Science.

She is working with the British Antarctic Survey and the Cabot Institute for the Environment, analyzing water drop residue from ice cores and glacial melt and how the resulting patterns correlate with scientific data.

Ms. Askew is documenting conservation issues and highlighting scientific findings with the LIFELINE Project, a media platform producing SciArt, international eco-education tutorials and film documentaries from field expeditions.

What is the focus of your work?

My current research is focused on investigating the links between patterns of water and water quality. I have recently come across the work of German artist Ruth Kübler who first observed that different liquid residues left varied patterns on a surface when viewed through a darkfield microscope. This observation was further developed by Professor Bernd Kröplin and his team at Stuttgart University and is in the preliminary stages of scientific research and testing at other institutions. Especially for instance in the field of medicine where blood and saliva patterning research has the potential to provide a cheap and non-invasive method for disease diagnosis. Also in agriculture, visual analysis of water drop patterns seem to indicate crop quality. My research has initially indicated that there could be potential benefits to wetland and marine ecology, and I have now started the first visual identification of water contaminants in ice core samples. My aim is to develop a tool for quality identification by documenting water patterns.

How does microscopy come into play?

It appears that the patterns left within the water residue are indicatory of contaminants such as microorganisms and trace metals. Through darkfield microscopy, controlled water drop samples are scrutinized quantitatively, photographed, and to ensure accuracy of color, scientifically illustrated by hand.

In ice cores, the environmental history can be read through the contaminants trapped in annual layers of snow. As well as concentrations of algae, ash, guano, nutrients and trace metals within the ice layers, levels of CO2 are a main indicator of climate change.

My research can potentially visualize longitudinal data to show climate change throughout 800,000 years of history.

The first tests with glacier water indicate identifiable patterns in different melt water courses, but from the same glacier source. The ZEISS Stemi 305 stereo microscope and ZEN software is thus invaluable to my research.

Public Outreach Activities

The images are presently on display by invitation of the In Absentia Pavilion at the ‘Wrong Biennale’ online and in Foggia, Italy. Furthermore, in autumn 2022, the first major exhibition will take place at the Nature in Art Museum, Gloucestershire England.

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