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Beautiful Cell Colonies Take Grand Prize in 2016 JALA & JBS Art of Science Contest

Fernanda Ricci, screening scientist at IIT@SEMM (Italy), submitted the grand prize-winning image in the 2016 JALA & JBS Art of Science Contest. The image surfaced during her work on the Journal of Biomolecular Screening manuscript, “Open Access to High-Content Clonogenic Analysis.”  Enjoy this article on past winners and submit your image by April 21 for the 2017 SLAS Discovery and SLAS Technology Art of Science Contest.

“The clonogenic assay has been used widely since the 1950s to test the toxicity of drugs in vitro, especially chemotherapeutics,” Ricci explains. “Until recently, these assays required manual enumeration of the mammalian cell colonies by the operator. The contest image came about while we were trying to obtain a reproducible and high-throughput method to use this gold standard. We developed an automated colony assay toolbox with cellular level resolution of the individual colonies. Thus, the obtained images were enriched with phenotypic information, like colony area, nuclei enlargement and senescence processes, previously undetectable with the single colony enumeration-based readout.”

In addition to gaining exposure for her work, the grand prize win included a $500 Amazon gift card and 60 days free online access to the SAGE Pharmacology and Biomedical Collection.

“The win was unexpected and surprising for me,” Ricci says. “When I stitched the images together I was fascinated with their mosaic appearance – very simply the art of science. However, to be able to show obscure scientific questions to a general audience by means of imagery is a powerful way to embed science into daily life. People can see the science in action.”

Nine additional images received honorable mentions in the contest (highlighted below), and those artistic scientists also received 60 days free online access to the SAGE Pharmacology and Biomedical Collection.

“I think appealing images create a meaningful first impression,” states honorable mention winner Jing Yan of Princeton. “Complicated charts and graphs may have deep scientific meanings but beautiful images catch people's attention immediately.”


Xianting Ding, Shanghai Jiao Tong University (China)

In the research of microfluidics, polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) is one of the most frequently used materials to form microfluidic channels for various biomedical applications. Yet, in order to bind PDMS with glass substrate, oxygen plasma often is required to activate a PDMS surface. However, oxygen plasma also could damage the structure or electrode patterned on the PDMS surface. A newly developed material, off-stoichiometry thiol-ene (OSTE), was reported to have the potential to replace PDMS as OSTE binds and seals easily.

“We further reformed the manufacturing protocols of OSTE, so that part of the OSTE surface is very bio-compatible, while the other part of the OSTE surface is bio-incompatible,” Ding says. “The image depicts this interesting phenomenon. With our modification, the OSTE surface could either facilitate cell adhesion (outside the letter area) or resist cell adhesion (inside the letter area). The zoomed-out sub-image clearly shows that cells do not attach to the surface inside the letter area, but grow well outside the letter area. The optimized OSTE fabrication process would largely benefit the research community that requires biomedical device design or fabrication using OSTE material.”

Ding explains that the image also served as a gift to the professors and students of Shanghai Jiao Tong University to celebrate the university’s 120th anniversary. “It is simply beautiful to create a university logo with mammalian cells to celebrate our 120th anniversary,” he says. “Also, I believe great imagery creates a great first impression when we publish our papers. Good quality images often make the review process much easier.” 

Ding also was an Art of Science Contest finalist in 2012 and 2013.


Yun Ding, ETH Zurich (Switzerland)

This artistic scientist named his image “Life Codes in Microfluidic Droplets.” The image shows uniquely DNA-barcoded beads encapsulated in nanoliter droplets to individually capture genetic information from millions of single human cells in a single experimental run. It is part of a high-throughput analytical platform built for next-generation DNA sequencing.

“Normally I would not get such a beautiful and lovely pattern that has such visual impact,” Ding says. “Usually my experiment schedule is quite tight, and the scenario I often see is droplets running in format in a channel. One day, I collected some droplets and imaged them as a monolayer in a chamber, as I had spare time that day and wanted to play around a bit. Surprisingly, I found another kind of beauty in my droplets! This experience touches and inspires me a lot. When doing scientific work or even dealing with daily life, you feel bored sometimes. Slow down. A change of perspective may give you unexpected discovery and joy!”

He further explains the science behind the art: “The cell will lyse in the droplet, and its mRNAs will release and complementarily bind to DNA stretches. By following subsequent procedures, namely RT-PCR and next-generation sequencing, we can track mRNAs from cell-of-origin and map mRNAs in single cell resolution. This strategy is highly efficient and high-throughput. Millions of droplets are generated per hour. We are using this method to extract the information from entire antibody repertoires of individually HIV-infected patients.”


Tomasz Koprowski, ETH Zurich (Switzerland)

Koprowski’s image is caenorhabditis elegans worms in a drop of M9 buffer.

“As part of a microfluidic experiment, we needed to estimate the number of worms in a sample,” he explains. “We used a standard technique where you aspirate 10ul drops and count the individual worms. We had so many aliquots that by the time we were finished some of the first samples were already partly dried. The dried up buffer gave an illusion of the depth and created the space window effect.

“Science is not just about graphs and tables. Humans are visual creatures and if you want to be successful in science and get people’s attention, you must turn to art or at least take some inspiration from art. This is my second time taking part in the JALA & JBS Art of Science Contest, and I am always happy to share the cool photos from my experiments.”

Koprowski took home top honors in the 2014 Art of Science Contest.


James Loomis, University of Auckland (New Zealand)

Two identically fabricated stimuli-response polymer composites are displayed, showcasing the dramatic elastic to plastic-like transformation in patterned honeycomb regions. This ternary composition of carbon nanotubes and thermally expanding microspheres in an elastomer matrix allows for design of polymer composites that exhibit unidirectional transformation of electrical and mechanical properties in response to thermal or infrared stimuli. Each hexagon region is ~4.5 mm in diameter prior to thermal expansion.


Carrie Lovitt, Griffith University (Australia)

“I was investigating drug resistance mechanisms in breast cancer cells, specifically evaluating the expression of pro-survival proteins following exposure of the MDA-MB-231 cell line to the chemotherapeutic drug doxorubicin,“ Lovitt explains of her image.

Following confocal imaging of the cells with the Opera confocal screening system (20x objective), she explored image analysis options and decided to apply texture masking for the final result.

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a 1,000 words,” she continues. “Imaging is a powerful tool for scientific research as it permits visualization of cellular processes.”


Sarah Morejohn (USA)

This drawing depicts cells with organelles and vortex paenibacillus bacteria. It was made with ink and colored pencil on paper.



Jing Yan, Princeton (USA)

This image shows a community of bacteria Vibrio cholerae, the pathogen for cholera. Bacteria adopt a social life form known as biofilm, where they stay together and secrete chemicals to build a "home" for survival.

“Biofilms cause many chronic diseases, so there is a need to understand how they form and how to deal with them,” he says. ”I am particularly interested in the internal structure of biofilms, and I use advanced imaging and analysis techniques to analyze biofilms. Using a high-resolution confocal microscope, we investigate the fine structure of such a community with single-cell resolution. I think bacteria are just lovely. The fact that we can see them individually under the microscope is just so cool. I use color code according to their height to make it more artistic.

Yan believes visually appealing images are important to effective science.


Constantinos D. Zeinalipour-Yazdi, University College London (UK)

A new physical model, the sphere-in-contact model, is presented and built for carbon materials such as graphene, graphite, fullerene and carbon nanotubes. The sphere-in-contact model was made of marbles and epoxy glue and offers improved visualization of various structural, physico-chemical and mechanical properties of carbon materials. The void space is more accurately described than in other commonly used chemistry models (i.e., ball-and-stick, wire-frame, space-fill). In this model, one can rationalize the relative size of molecules/ions that can either be trapped in the void space or diffused through the material. The photograph depicts the sphere-in-contact model of fullerene-C60 in which every atom carries a reflection of several other atoms in the structure.

Zeinalipour-Yazdi also was a finalist in the 2012, 2013 and 2014 contests.


Haijiang Zhang, EMPA (Switzerland)

"The Natural Life in the World of Crystals" shows a combination of different crystals made through a microfluidic process from materials including alginate, calcium, iron and triazole. The entire image and the diversity of the crystals elegantly simulate a unique frame of nature with a bush, flowers and butterflies all made of crystals. The scientist/artist used a high-resolution colorful camera with a polarized filter at 5X magnification on an inverted microscope to create the image.


2017 SLAS Discovery & SLAS Technology Art of Science Contest

SLAS is now accepting entries until April 21 for the 2017 SLAS Discovery and SLAS Technology Art of Science Contest. The grand prize winner wll be determined by online voting from May 1-19, 2017. Send in your scientific images that are fun to look at and stimulate the imagination!

Need ideas? Click on a year to see images and descriptions of former finalists.





March 20, 2017