A lens of an artist on the wonders and mysteries of the world, bringing science to life

In the following two centuries, microscopes continued to improve. Scientists and artists worked together as they progressed to reveal the inner complexity of the living world. Images that were created proved to be invaluable for the advancement of science. The photos showed the beauty of life to an even wider audience.

The 19th century brought the advent of photography. In a short time, the camera and microscope were combined to form the new microphotography discipline. Interpretation by artists became less important. The technology placed imaging in the sole hands of scientists, which had its pitfalls. Access to knowledge became increasingly limited as technology and science became more complex.

Thankfully, this is changing. In the last 20 years, digital technologies that are used in science, design, and art have become commonplace. A flood of high-definition, full-chroma images has been produced. The internet, with its ability to spread ideas and information, has allowed people outside of academia and scientific labs to see everything from the outermost extremities of our universe to a cell’s inner mechanisms.

It is crucial to note that a greater understanding of science by the general public validates all of the money spent on research. This also supports the benefits that directly feed back into society.

Celebrate scientists’ images.

New initiatives are being launched to promote this understanding. People have begun to realize the importance of using artistic practices by scientists to create images, objects, and other media that can captivate audiences. These initiatives have included encouraging scientists and artists to collaborate, share knowledge, and develop new ways to see and communicate.

One such initiative is the Wellcome Images of Science Awards. The Wellcome Images of Science Awards was established in 1997 to promote scientific research. The awards are also an opportunity to educate people on the amazing images created by scientists and artists and to celebrate these. I’m on the panel.

A 3D model of the vessels in a healthy miniature pig’s eye. Peter M Maloca from the OCTlab of the University of Basel, Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, Christian Schwaller, Ruslan Hlushchuk of the University of Bern, Sebastien Barre

The award has been a reflection of many advances in biomedical sciences and their visualization over the last 20 years. The techniques sound more and more like they were lifted straight from a science fiction novel: optical coherence tomography, diffusion tensor imaging, and thermal imaging. The award is part of a campaign to demystify these words and get scientists talking about their work.

These explanations are important. Gabriel Luna’s confocal microscope images of the retinal surface of a mouse are stunning. They add a new dimension. His technique is not only beautiful, but it also has a lot of benefits for patients. Confocal microscopy can be used without causing any harm to the eye. This technique allows researchers to share images and gain a deeper understanding of eye diseases.

Images provide new insights.

Images have always been important in science. The new techniques are reminiscent of old ones: one of this year’s awards, a 3D model of an eye by Stephanie J Forkel, and a model showing the 3D pathway of the brain by Ahmad Bey, reminds us of Renaissance Italian scholars who used wax models to reveal the body’s internal organs and vessels.

Science has been searching for a way to understand the infinitely complex functions of the brain and, by extension, its malfunctions. The 3D brain pathway model is mesmerizing because it makes visible the mechanism within our brain that we use to view it. It’s a neuro-portrait.

Even data can create startling images. Eric Clarke’s, Richard Arnett’s and Jane Burns’ work is a visualisation of data from tweets that contain the hashtag#breastcancer. This beautiful starburst is the result of a complex representation that convergent energy creates a mandala effect. This visualisation also evokes past scientific images. It is similar to the complex cosmological work of 17th century physician Robert Fludd.

Blood vessels of an African grey parrot rendered in 3D. Scott Birch, Scott Echols

Images may not be what they appear to be at first. Mark R Smith’s Hawaiian Bobtail Squid has aqueous tones that are almost watercolour-like and evoke the aquatic world in which this squid lives. The squid’s enigmatic form and striking patterns are a reflection of our fascination with marine life. The illustrations also recall the celebrated 19th century book Arts of Nature by zoologist Ernst Haeckel.

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