Reflections on writing writing ‘Two Ohio University Professors Turn Toxic Sludge Into Stunning Artwork’

Although human beings are just one piece of its puzzle, we have the power and the choice to either save or destroy nature for future generations.

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Over the course of writing the Pollution Paint article, I not only learned more about the extent to which humans have negatively affected their environment, but also about efforts to reverse the damage and conserve the beauty of nature.  

As a student, I learned of air and sea pollution. However, never have I heard of acid mine drainage and the impact it has on the affected ecosystem. Through my research, I now know pollution in the Ohio River and its surrounding creeks due to acid mine drainage is just as dangerous and harmful to the environment as any other form of pollution around the world. The mere fact that many of the creeks are uninhabitable for any wildlife made me both apoplectic and terrified for the future of the Ohio River ecosystem.

Watching videos of the brown and murky waters in the Bat Gate mine seep did not resolve these feelings. Seeing Dr. Riefler lift a handful of iron oxide residue that grossly resembled fecal matter made me want to gag in disgust. As he explained the chemistry of turning this iron oxide into a workable pigment, I recalled scarring memories from freshman-year chemistry class. Yet, I remained appreciative of the work, for I knew it had to be done. 

When I saw Professor Sabraw’s stunning paintings, the captivating colors of the paint derived from the iron oxide led me to realize that nature expresses its beauty in a multitude of ways.  In this particular case, the iron oxide from nature’s creeks was harnessed and converted into the mesmerizing reds, yellows, oranges and violets. This manifestation of nature’s magnificence enthralled me with its brilliance. However, it disappointed me that the iron oxide existed in the creeks to begin with.

Still, I quickly felt reassured that I wasn’t the only person who feels strongly about this environmental damage. By interviewing both John Sabraw and Dr. Guy Riefler, I learned that efforts are being made to address this burning problem and progress has been made in an initiative to clean up the polluted creeks affected by acid mine drainage in the Ohio River system.  

Throughout the process, hearing of the way two very different people have worked together to achieve a common goal was both awesome and inspirational. It shows how science and art can collaborate to conserve something infinitely more gorgeous than the “Mona Lisa” or “Starry Night” combined. Something that transcends the understanding of even the greatest scientific minds, from Charles Darwin to Isaac Newton. And something that is so incredibly vast and powerful, yet gentle and delicate in so many ways. 

That ‘something’ is nature, and although human beings are just one piece of its puzzle, we have the power and the choice to either save or destroy it for future generations.

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Two Ohio University professors turn toxic sludge into stunning artwork

Science and art collaborate to conserve something infinitely more gorgeous than the “Mona Lisa” or “Starry Night” combined