ARTxSCIENCE Exhibit Showcases Novel Water Desalination and Clean Energy Systems

Achievement date: 

Drs. Mary Laura Lind, Shahnawaz Sinha, and Francois Perreault of the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded Nanosystems Engineering Research Center (NERC) for Nanotechnology Enabled Water Treatment (NEWT) advised on technical aspects of a desalination project undertaken by Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) student Aislinn Varela. The work resulted in an innovative art exhibition highlighting key aspects of the “energy-water nexus.” The "Paradox Resolved" Exhibition was hosted at the Harry Wood Gallery in collaboration with the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University (ASU) from March 27-31, 2022.


The “Paradox Resolved” exhibition sought new approaches to the interconnected challenges of energy production and water purification. The project provided an entrance point for the general public to appreciate the complexity and urgency around the topic of “water in the West.” The items displayed provided a context for conversations around our dwindling supply of clean water as well as an introduction to new technologies that may be part of emerging solutions.


NEWT REU Student Aislinn Varela collaborated with a team of interdisciplinary scientists and artists at ASU including Dr. Dan Collins and graduate students Jayani Mehta and Xavier Nokes to curate a collection of works that would provide “Heuristics for Exploring Desalination and Alternative Energy Production.”

The word “paradox” in the exhibit title refers to the “Paradox Valley” located in Southwest Colorado. Here the Dolores River runs perpendicular to—rather than along the length of—the high sandstone geologic features of the valley. The landscape creates intractable problems of salt infiltration and clean energy production in the region. Works curated for the “Paradox Resolved” exhibit were focused on addressing, discussing, and possibly solving this example scenario. The goal of the project was to develop an interdisciplinary platform to provide opportunities for ideas and solutions from a variety of individuals and disciplines. A broad range of media were included in the exhibition—including large-scale digital photographs, graphs, video, sculptural objects, AI-generated images and text, and an immersive A/V display. Works for the exhibit were curated from across interested artists, sustainability engineers, architectural designers, and data visualization specialists.

Varela’s current work with NEWT NERC focuses on brine management using membrane distillation. Her recent findings were published in an article titled “Scaling mitigation in direct contact membrane distillation using air microbubbles” which appeared in Desalination, Vol. 549, March 2023.