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Inspiration, Discovery, Excitement: JALA & JBS Art of Science Contest

"We all understand how inspiring it is for younger generations to look at cool science images, but there is definitely more to it than that. It also gives us a boost to create and invent. All people get influenced by beauty, even the scientists. That is why I would recommend to once in a while veer off the protocol, try something new, something crazy. It may not work, but if it does, it is your eureka moment. You may be the only man on the planet seeing it and then comes the tingling feeling in your tummy. This is science. The inspiration, discovery and excitement. Just remember to hit "capture" before that moment goes away!"
– Tomasz Koprowski, 2014 JALA & JBS Art of Science Contest winner


Tomasz Koprowski of the Institute for Chemical and Bioengineering in Zurich, Switzerland took home the grand prize of a $500 Amazon gift card in the 2014 JALA & JBS Art of Science Contest for The Tree of Life — C. elegans worms on a chunk of agar.

"We were attempting to image a hydrophilic layer around crawling C. elegans worm," Koprowski explains. "It was a part of a larger project, which was addressing an interaction of certain proteins with nematodes. In order to achieve that, we were investigating different illumination techniques.

"As you can see in this particular image, we did not succeed in our goal," Koprowski continues. "However, we managed to capture a unique alignment of worms. Gently dispersed light gives the picture a peaceful tone and the curved bodies of nematodes, pointing away from an agar formation, make the whole composition look like an ancient oak tree."

Cells and Cysts and Neurons, Oh My!

Sometimes scientific images surpass their primary role as a means to analyze and present scientific work and create shapes, patterns and designs that capture attention, encourage imagination and offer beauty beyond belief. As JALA & JBS gather submissions for the 2015 JALA & JBS Art of Science Contest, take Koprowski's advice and "try something new, something crazy." Submit by Dec. 24, 2014 and one grand prize winner will receive a fully paid registration (a $1,200 value!) to SLAS2016 in San Diego, CA, Jan. 23-27, 2016.

Enjoy learning a bit more about the finalist images from the 2014 JALA & JBS Art of Science Contest below.

Ludovic Autin of The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA, USA, loved the fact that his "image really shows how crowded the world can be at the molecular level." A procedurally created subsection of synaptic vesicles, the image was created using advanced rendering techniques and visually shows distinction within the molecule.

"In our work in the Scripps Molecular Graphics Laboratory directed by Professor Arthur Olson, we are interested in developing novel techniques for the computation, analysis and modeling of the interaction of protein-ligand, protein-protein and other biomolecular systems," Autin shares. "More specifically I am involved in the development of a method called cellPACK for building 3D models of large biological assemblies at the molecular level. We try to pack proteins in their environment – cells, virus, organelles."

Autin believes in the power of great imagery for effective science.

"We have two uses for high quality images," Autin explains. "First, we integrate them into manuscripts submitted to peer-reviewed journals to support our research and present our results. Second, we use them to communicate and trigger the curiosity of potential readers and help them better understand how things are distributed in space at the molecular level."

Muhammad Awais of Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals, Liverpool, UK, submitted this butterfly of depolarized and dead acinar cells.

"The image shows two clusters of primary cultures of acinar cells isolated from a mouse pancreas," he explains. "Cells were loaded with JC-1 dye and the image was taken after the induction of depolarization of mitochondria. The imaging was done at the NIHR Liverpool Pancreas Biomedical Research Unit in the UK."

This National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) unit is a leading global translational research unit dedicated to improving the management of patients with pancreatic digestive diseases such as acute and chronic pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer.

Rakesh Karmacharya of Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA, submitted an image showing the emergence of neurons from a bed of neural progenitor cells.

"The neural progenitor cells were derived from human induced pluripotent stem cells and cultured under conditions favorable to neuronal differentiations," he offers. "The neural progenitor cells give rise to different neuronal and glial cells. We were intrigued by the intricacy and elegance of the neuronal cultures, even though they were being differentiated in a two-dimensional petri dish in the laboratory."

Cells in red are neural progenitor cells (labeled with nestin) and cells in green are neurons (labeled with beta-III tubulin). Nuclei are in blue. Karmacharya's laboratory studies the neurobiology of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, generating induced pluripotent stem cells from fibroblasts of patients and healthy control subjects and differentiating them along the neuronal lineage in order to identify disease signatures.

Josiane Lafleur of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, explains the science behind her image.

"I needed a very long mixing channel to mix water samples with gold nanoparticles," she says. "Trying to fit the longest channel possible onto the small chip, the flower shape came up naturally. It made everyone laugh in my lab laugh quite a bit because that is also what my name means in French – The Flower."

Lafleur believes great imagery plays an important role in effective science.

"Scientists are also artists and creators – beautiful imagery appeals to them just as much as it does to anybody else," she states. "We need great images to promote our research, interest the general public and communicate effectively what we do, but we also love creating beautiful things for our own pleasure and discovery."

This microfluidic chip was designed for the monitoring of pollutants in the environment. The ultimate purpose of the chip transpired in its design, resulting in a flower-shaped meandering mixing channel.

Yi Lu of University of Arizona, Tucson, USA, created Cell-ebrate Christmas, a Christmas tree-shaped microchannel for rapid, high-throughput separation of endothelial spheroids from individual cells.

"Our lab develops systems approaches to create, perturb and monitor 3D organotypic and tissue models to investigate collective migration in tissue development, wound healing and cancer metastasis," Lu explains. "This image was created when we were designing microfluidic channels for separating endothelial spheroids with different sizes. The ability to precisely control the size of spheroids creates new opportunities to study 3D collective migration from a systems perspective.

"There are several purposes to the Christmas tree shaped microchannel design. First, the diverging channel and zigzag-shape sidewalls create flow deceleration and slow-flow regions depending on the initial position of spheroid at the entrance. Second it demonstrates rapid prototyping of microfluidic channels by using a computer numerical control system with micrometer precision. The smallest feature that can be made by the system is 2 microns and the whole process can be finished in one hour. Third, the microchannel allows not only high-throughput separation of spheroids, but also the migration of spheroids under different geometry constraints.

"Art and science are two sides of the same coin," Lu says, "and always are used to inform one another.

"I like our picture very much," he adds. "It is very colorful and vivid. But if you look carefully, you will find the picture actually contains a lot of information, such as the cell distribution in the channel and the cell trajectories. Images can help us to expand our vision and find better solutions from an engineering point of view."

Alyce Nehme of University of New South Wales, Australia, was a finalist with this image of the actin cytoskeleton of a childhood cancer cell captured on a confocal microscope while testing the effect of novel chemotherapeutics under low oxygen conditions.

"What I love about this image is the detail of the actin cytoskeleton," Nehme reports. "Quite often these fine structures can appear hazy but the resolution achieved reveals how extensive this network is. To me, great imagery plays a pivotal role in good science. While assays and other numerical outputs give you information, it is ultimately an image that reveals exactly what those mean, what exactly is happening to the cell."

This actin cytoskeleton was stained with phalloidin using a Leica SP5 two photon confocal microscope by merging several z slices.

Leo Price of OcellO, The Netherlands, offers this confocal image of a renal cyst cultured in a 3D extracellular matrix protein gel environment.

"The image was taken 10 years ago, when I first started working with 3D cell culture," he explains. "I was trying to grow kidney epithelial cells in 3D to study cell-cell interactions – something that is disrupted when cells are grown in a monolayer. I was trying various different growth conditions and culture times. One culture I let grow for about 10 days and this enormous cyst was the result."

In his image, green shows anti-ezrinimmunostaining; blue, anti-epac1 immunostaining; and red shows F-actin staining.

"Environmental cues drive cell polarization and differentiation resulting in cyst formation – a structure which cannot be obtained in conventional 2D culture, but is central in the development of the disease," says Price. In collaboration with Leiden University, OcellO performs high-throughput screening of 3D cultured cysts derived from PKD1-depleted kidney epithelial cells, with the aim of identifying compounds to treat polycystic kidney disease."

Great imagery is extremely important in effective science according to Price, both in understanding the biology and in communicating a message to others. He says the scientists in his lab are strongly encouraged to put extra time into capturing powerful images.

"We have these printed on 50x50 cm hard boards, which are distributed around the building!"

Constantinos Zeinalipour of Cardiff University, UK, makes the JALA & JBS Art of Science Contest top 10 for the third year. His 2014 image of an optical microscope depicts an array of micro-needles that can be used to deliver medicine to the human body painlessly.

"Such microchannels also can be used to extract skin fluids for the purpose of sensing or sampling," he says. "The micro-needles make micrometer holes to deliver a wider variety of active substances directly to the body. They are short enough to avoid capillaries and nerve endings that are located in the dermis making them less invasive."

Your Turn! Enter the 2015 JALA & JBS Art of Science Contest

Submit scientific images that attract attention, are fun to look at and stimulate the imagination! One grand prize winner will receive a fully paid registration (a $1,200 value!) to SLAS2016, Jan. 23-27, 2016, in San Diego, CA. Ten finalists will receive autographed copies of the book I Heard the Sirens Scream: How Americans Responded to the 9/11 and Anthrax Attacks by SLAS2015 keynote speaker Laurie Garrett, plus 60 days free online access to the SAGE Pharmacology & Biomedical Collection (nearly 100,000 articles!). Entries are due by Dec. 24, 2014.

Need ideas? Click on a year to see images and descriptions from previous JALA & JBS Art of Science contests.




November 24, 2014