Erin Bentley, a masters student from the University of Wyoming, is one of 40 artists and scientists selected for The Arctic Circle program.

The Arctic Circle is an annual expeditionary residency program, now in its 12th year. Bentley will be part of the summer solstice expedition, scheduled June 7-24, 2021.

Bentley, from Green River, stated “On this trip, I hope to learn more about the microbial diversity of the region, but I also hope to engage the public in the mission of the Microbestiary,”

The Microbestiary is an outreach project coordinated by Bentley, who studies the consequences of a rarity for plant genetics and plant microbiomes in UW Professor Alex Buerkle’s botany lab.

“A piece of my current studies focuses on microbial diversity and, since the purpose of my involvement with this expedition would be to characterize the diversity of the microbes present in the snow, water and soil of the Arctic, it fits in nicely with my current research," Bentley says.

International artists of all disciplines, scientists, architects and educators are all brought together through the Artic Circle program to collectively explore the high-Arctic Svalbard, an Arctic archipelago located just 10 degrees of latitude from the North Pole. The research group will sail aboard a specially outfitted barquentine, or schooner vessel.

In summer 2021, Bentley will sail aboard this specially outfitted barquentine, or schooner vessel, as part of The Arctic Circle program. During the research expedition that combines science and art, Bentley plans to characterize the diversity of the microbes present in the snow, water, and soil of the Arctic.

To be considered, Bentley had to submit an application that included her essay, titled “Finding Thule.” Thule is the most remote northern location mentioned in ancient Greek and Roman literature.

Bentley says that in her essay, she drew from her original inspiration for the Microbestiary, comparing the diverse world of microbes to the fantastical beasts the world once believed in during the Middle Ages, and the existence of an unexplored, mythical land with the unseen microbial world of the Arctic.

The Microbestiary website features these mythological beasts, along with artistic responses to each microbe, in an effort to make the science more engaging and accessible, Bentley says.

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