Offspring Blog

The Art of Science: From Laboratories to Galleries

By Matthew Cheng

July 18, 2017

As researchers, we make observations everyday, using a vast array of tools to investigate scientific questions. These tools offer a unique perspective of the universe and world that few others have. Whether it be the colours and lights of distant nebulae or the intricate cellular patterns of living organisms, these images often blur into the realm of art. To celebrate the beauty and artistic qualities found in our everyday research, the Offspring would like to invite you, our readers, to share the most visually stunning and interesting images inspired by science or from your own research (see below for more details). We hope that by sharing your images, you will gain a newfound appreciation for the aesthetics inherent to your research topic. Moreover, given the scientific diversity within the Max Planck Society, not only could you showcase fascinating images from your field, but you are sure to discover the beauty in the research fields of peers and colleagues.

The compound (light) microscope is one of the most important tools in biological research today. While observations made through a microscope (a micrograph) have been instrumental to scientific breakthroughs and discoveries, they have also shown us intricate patterns and vibrant colours in the microscopic world all around us. From the incredibly ordered microstructures of organisms to the dreamlike visuals of inorganic compounds, many micrographs could very well belong - and have hung - on the walls of art galleries and museums. Indeed, the artistic qualities innate in micrographs have been appreciated since the 16th century, through the illustrations of Dutch scientist Anton van Leeuwenhoek and English philosopher Robert Hooke (his publication “The Micrographia” helped popularize microscopy). With the invention of photography in the 19th century, production and sharing of micrographs has become more frequent and have also been used as a tool for art.

Crystals of vitamin C seen through a polarized light microscope (250x magnification). Image captured Dr. Josef Reischig, CSc. Zoom Image
Crystals of vitamin C seen through a polarized light microscope (250x magnification). Image captured Dr. Josef Reischig, CSc.

Today, research labs around the world are sharing micrographs not only as figures in scientific manuscripts but also as pieces of art to appreciate. Beginning in 1975, Nikon has hosted an annual photomicrography competition entitled “Small World”, opened to international submissions spanning many fields of scientific studies. As of 2011, “Small World” included a sister competition for movies captured through a microscope, highlighting the delicate and otherwise imperceptible movements surrounding us. As a testament to the popularity of finding art in science, Olympus has also hosted a similar competition since 2004 entitled “BioScapes”. These images and movies are not only visually stunning, but makes us pause to admire the vibrant colours, the many layers of structures and details, as well as the subtlety of the world in which we live.

Inspired by Nikon’s “Small World” and Olympus’ “BioScapes” photomicrography competitions, the Offspring would like feature your science-inspired images. Your submissions will be showcased in the next print issue of the Offspring as well as online through the Offspring blog! All PhD candidates associated with the Max Planck Society are welcome to participate. Our editorial board and the PhDnet’s Steering Group will also select our favourite submission to be on the cover of our next print issue. Please send your images to: Photo submission is open until September 15, so hurry!

Your images should:

  • Have a resolution of 300dpi
  • Under 15MB in size
  • Be in any of the following formats: GIF, TIF/TIFF, PNG, WMF, PSD, AI, PS
  • Either have a creative commons licence and/or be available for non-commercial reuse and distribution
  • Be accompanied by a short title and/or caption describing the subject matter, a declaration of ownership, as well as your name and affiliation

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