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"Extremophiles" Exhibit Showcases Images of Harsh Environments

University of West Florida biology professor Wade Jeffrey has conducted research in some of the world’s harshest environments.  Dr. Jeffrey captured the beauty, serenity, and fragility of those places in a series of photographs that are now on display in Gallery 88.  The exhibit is titled “Extremophiles.”

“Every time I travel, I carry a camera and am fascinated by the things I see. So I’m doing science on one hand, and sometimes take a photograph in the other,” Jeffrey said.

Credit Wade Jeffrey
"Llamará Salt Pond" (May 2013) Salar de Llamará, Atacama Desert, Chile

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Jeffrey has been traveling to remote places since the early 1980s. He has taken several expeditions to Antarctica, the Arctic, and most recently two expeditions to the Atacama Desert in Chile in 2013.

“For the past twenty years or so, most of my work has revolved around how sunlight affects microorganisms, in particular, ultraviolet radiation,” Jeffrey said. “In the salt plains in the Atacama Desert and the Altiplano, they’re at high elevation, the sky is very clear. Because it’s a desert, there are no rain clouds to speak of, and so the amount of solar intensity is very, very high. And so how these organisms are able to survive and grow and thrive under these very adverse conditions is what I’m interested in scientifically.”

In the past, Jeffrey shot with film cameras. His recent work was captured with a digital SLR camera.

“I’m trying to find representative photographs from each of the places I’ve been,” Jeffrey said. “So, there’s the dry valleys, there are the Weddell Sea side of the Antarctic, the Ross Sea side of the Antarctic, icebergs, maybe a penguin or two. Icebergs are like penguins, no two of them are the same when you see them, so they’re always fascinating to watch.”

Credit Wade Jeffrey
"Penguins on the Edge" (November 2005) Ross Sea, Antarctica

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Jeffrey brings students on expeditions whenever he can. Students participated in many of the Antarctic research cruises and the trips to the Atacama Desert. He intends to build a program in South America to allow UWF students to do work in there, as well as facilitate student exchanges with universities in Chile.

Jeffrey said the Chilean Deserts and Antarctica are home to similar kinds of organisms, because Antarctica is also classified as a desert.

“The most common definition of a desert has to do with precipitation. Despite the fact that you see the Antarctic as this big white mass of ice, the actual amount of snowfall, for instance, is very, very low. Much of what you might think is snow is actually just ice blowing from one place to another sometimes,” Jeffrey said.

Jeffrey hopes the images in the exhibit will convey the similarities and differences between three extreme environments.

“As extreme as these environments are, for temperature, salinity, maybe acidity, salt content, that live thrives under these seemingly bizarre conditions,” Jeffrey said.

“Extremophiles” will run from January 21 - February 21, 2014. A closing reception is scheduled for Thursday, February 20th from 5pm to 7pm at the WUWF Studios, building 88 on the UWF campus.

More information about the photographs is available at uwf.edu/wjeffrey/extremophiles.html.

Katya Ivanov, WUWF News