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Heroes

This British organization asked for beautiful science photos. Here are 13 finalists.

When David Linstead was about 9 or 10, he pestered his parents for a microscope.

It sparked a lifetime of scientific curiosity. David is now a retired research scientist with over 20 years of experience. In 2016, he captured an incredible slice of life in a microscopy photo that borders on fine art. The blue hues and fluorescent oranges and pinks burst through in a kaleidoscope of colors. To the uninformed eye, this image could be seen as evidence of alien life. But it's actually a photo of cat skin with hair and whiskers.

A polarized light micrograph of a section of cat skin, showing hairs, whiskers, and their blood supply. This sample is from a Victorian microscope slide. Blood vessels were injected with a red dye called carmine dye (here appearing black) in order to visualize the capillaries in the tissue, a newly developed technique at the time. This image is a composite made up of 44 individual images stitched together to produce a final image 12 millimeters wide. Image via David Linstead/Wellcome Image Awards.


The Wellcome Image Awards have been highlighting amazing images like this one for 20 years. This year's 22 finalists were chosen from photographs, illustrations, and other visual renderings from the sciences that showcase the beauty in their fields.

Here are 12 more images from this year's finalists that show the beauty behind science.

1. Hawaiian bobtail squid.

Image via Mark R Smith, Macroscopic Solutions/Wellcome Image Awards.

Native to the Pacific Ocean, Hawaiian bobtail squid are nocturnal predators that remain buried under the sand during the day and come out to hunt for shrimp near coral reefs at night. The squid have a light organ on their underside that houses a colony of glowing bacteria called Vibrio fischeri. The squid provide food and shelter for these bacteria in return for their bioluminescence.

2. Language pathways of the brain.

Image via Stephanie J Forkel and Ahmad Beyh, Natbrainlab, King’s College London; Alfonso de Lara Rubio, King’s College London/Wellcome Image Awards.

The brain is composed of two types of matter. Gray matter contains cells and is responsible for processing information. White matter connects these areas of grey matter, allowing information to be transferred between distant areas of the brain. Areas responsible for speech and language have been mapped to two different brain regions. This image shows a 3D-printed reconstruction of the white matter pathway connecting these two areas (here shown from the left), which is called the arcuate fasciculus.

3. Surface of a mouse retina.

Image via Gabriel Luna, Neuroscience Research Institute, University of California, Santa Barbara/Wellcome Image Awards.

The retina, located at the back of the eye, contains light-sensitive cells responsible for converting light into electrical nerve signals that the brain can process. As a result of aging or injury, the retina can lose this function, causing vision loss. This image was created by digitally stitching together over 400 images to form one large image, so as to show the entire surface of a mouse retina.

4. Vessels of a healthy mini-pig eye.

Image via Peter M Maloca, OCTlab at the University of Basel and Moorfields Eye Hospital, London; Christian Schwaller; Ruslan Hlushchuk, University of Bern; Sébastien Barré/Wellcome Image Awards.

A 3D model of a healthy mini-pig eye. The dent on the right side of the image is the pupil, the opening that allows light into the eye. The blood vessels shown are bringing energy and food to the muscles surrounding the iris, which controls the amount of light entering the eye. The smallest vessels seen here are 20–30 micrometers (0.02–0.03 millimeters) in diameter. The other large vessels are feeder vessels for the retina, the light-sensing region at the back of the eye.

5. The placenta rainbow.

Image via Suchita Nadkarni, William Harvey Research Institute, Queen Mary University of London/Wellcome Image Awards.

The placenta rainbow highlights differences in mouse placental development that can result from manipulation of the mother’s immune system. These placentas were investigated at day 12 of the 20-day gestation period — the point at which a mouse’s placenta has gained its characteristic shape but is still developing.

6. Developing spinal cord.

Image via Gabriel Galea, University College London/Wellcome Image Awards.

Our spines allow us to stand and move, and they protect the spinal cord, which connects all the nerves in our body with our brain. The spinal cord is formed from a structure called the neural tube, which develops during the first month of pregnancy.

This series of three images shows the open end of a mouse’s neural tube, with each image highlighting (in blue) one of the three main embryonic tissue types. On the left is the neural tube itself, which develops into the brain, spine, and nerves. On the right is the surface ectoderm — the word "ectoderm" comes from the Greek ektos meaning "outside" and derma meaning skin — which will eventually form the skin, teeth, and hair. The middle image shows the mesoderm (also from Greek, meaning "middle skin"), which will form the organs.

7. Zebrafish eye and neuromasts.

Image via Ingrid Lekk and Steve Wilson, University College London/Wellcome Image Awards.

This four-day-old zebrafish embryo has been modified using two mechanisms — borrowed from the fascinating worlds of bacteria and yeast — that are widely applied in genetics research. A DNA-editing technology called CRISPR/Cas9 was used to insert a gene called Gal4 next to the gene that the researchers wished to study. These Gal4 fish were then bred with special reporter fish to create fish where the gene of interest displays red whenever it is activated.

8. Intraocular lens "iris clip."

Image via Mark Bartley, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust/Wellcome Image Awards.

This image shows how an "iris clip," also known as an artificial intraocular lens, is fitted onto the eye. An iris clip is a small, thin lens made from silicone or acrylic material with plastic side supports to hold it in place. An iris clip is fixed to the iris through a three-millimeter surgical incision and is used to treat conditions such as myopia (nearsightedness) and cataracts (cloudiness of the lens). This particular patient, a 70-year-old man, regained almost full vision following his surgery.

9. #BreastCancer Twitter connections.

Image via Eric Clarke, Richard Arnett and Jane Burns, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland/Wellcome Image Awards.

This is a graphical visualization of data extracted from tweets containing the hashtag #BreastCancer. Twitter users are represented by dots, called nodes, and lines connecting the nodes represent the relationships between the Twitter users. Nodes are sized differently according to the number and importance of other nodes they are connected with, and the thickness of each connecting line is determined by the number of times that a particular relationship is expressed within the data.

The "double yolk" structure at the top of the image indicates common mentions of two accounts. This area of the graph provides a graphical expression of trending data in Twitter, as it represents one tweet that was retweeted thousands of times.

10. Brain-on-a-chip.

Image via Collin Edington and Iris Lee, © Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)/Wellcome Image Awards.

Neural stem cells have the ability to form all the different cell types found in the nervous system. Here, researchers are investigating how neural stem cells grow on a synthetic gel called PEG. After just two weeks, the stem cells (magenta) produced nerve fibers (green). These fibers grew away from the cell due to chemical gradients in the gel, teaching researchers about how their environment affects their structural organization.

11. MicroRNA scaffold cancer therapy.

Image via João Conde, Nuria Oliva and Natalie Artzi, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)/Wellcome Image Awards.

Researchers are investigating short genetic sequences called microRNAs, which control the proper function and growth of cells, as a possible cancer therapy. However, their potential use is limited by the lack of an efficient system to deliver these microRNAs specifically to cancerous cells. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed such a system, combining two microRNAs with a synthetic polymer to form a stable woven structure that is a bit like a net. This synthetic net can coat a tumor and deliver the two microRNAs locally to cancer cells.

12. Unravelled DNA in a human lung cell.

Image via Ezequiel Miron, University of Oxford/Wellcome Image Awards.

In order for plants and animals to grow and remain healthy, cells need to have the ability to replicate. During cell division, also known as mitosis, the entire DNA content of the cell is copied, with half going to each new cell. DNA is found in the nucleus, which acts a bit like the brain.

This picture shows the nucleus of one of two new daughter cells. The DNA in this cell has somehow become caught and is being pulled between the two cells. This has caused the DNA to unfold inside the nucleus, and DNA fibers can be seen running through it. As the new cells have moved apart, the tension distributed by the rope-like DNA has deformed the nucleus’ usually circular envelope.

There they are, in all their majesty.

Looking at the sheer brilliance of these images, it's easy to see why funding for science is fundamentally important to society. They show the value of science to better understand our world by revealing the quiet beauty behind the universe's veil. That's the power of scientific exploration.

To learn more about the Wellcome Image Awards and see all of this year's and previous years' winners, visit their website. All caption info via Wellcome Image Awards.

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