Faculty of 1000

Post-publication peer review

Every picture tells a story

Posted by rpg on 19 March, 2010

Lord Lichfield

One of the great things about doing science, especially if you’re lucky enough to be a cell or structural biologist, is just how gosh-darned pretty it can be. Sometimes, crouched over a microscope or synchrotron hutch late at night (or very early in the morning, with the latter), the sheer prettiness of what I was doing was all that kept me going.

Mercedes BenzStructure of MFP2

The images above are but two of probably hundreds I’ve captured or rendered in my career. Whether they can be called ‘art’ is possibly a matter for the philosophers* but I like ’em. But there is definitely an overlap between science and (visual) art, where pure information becomes something more than that, where the representation acquires meaning or emotional impact of its own. You might know in your heart that this is the first time anyone has ever seen this protein’s structure, or that particular cellular effect, and you will get an emotional as well as intellectual kick out of it; but even someone with no scientific training can look at some of these images and be just as moved.

What we do as scientists has some mechanistic meaning, but it is also inherently pretty. And if you’re not convinced, you should take a look at Creaturecast.

CreatureCast – Footage From The Deep from Casey Dunn on Vimeo.

Creaturecast is produced by the Dunn Lab at Brown University, and showcases particularly interesting and/or beautiful scenes of zoology. It’s a site well worth looking around, especially on a damp Friday afternoon or for a morale boost on a Monday. It’s educational, too: did you know that Emperor Hirohito was a poet and a marine biologist too? Apparently he published (after the Second World War) he published 32 books of plates, that described 23 new species of ascidians, 7 new species of crabs, 8 new species of starfish and 6 new species of pycnogonids. He surveyed the biodiversity of Sagami Bay, and had a special interest in the tiny tentacled sea floor polyps called hydrozoans. He published under the name ‘Hirohito Emperor of Japan’.

And don’t think Creaturecast is simply observation, there’s also original art:

In a similar vein, the website from which I pulled the ‘Snake oil supplement‘ graphic last week has a Facebook group. As, in fact, does the Wellcome Trust, or at least their image collection. Very pretty, go and take a look.
Ingredients for a medical career

Ingredients for a medical career

We’ve been doing a bit of art ourselves. Here’s the Wordle of Callum’s blog post the other day (Callumwordle?):

Wordle: f1000 blog

No prizes for guessing what he was talking about.

Heath Robinson

In these times of budget cuts and recession and financial uncertainty, it helps if you can make the grant money go further. What better way, then, to build your own equipment? A Google software engineer by the name of Neil Fraser wanted to know if a Lava Lamp would work in a high-gravity environment such as Jupiter.

Would the wax still rise to the surface? Would the blobs be smaller and faster?

How to find out? With NASA cutting back on manned spaceflight, the answer wasn’t likely to be forthcoming any time soon, so Neil built a centrifuge to find out. From Meccano. A lava lamp at the end of one arm and a counterweight at the other. Genius.
Lava lamp centrifuge

In his own words, the device is genuinely terrifying: he ran the centrifuge from the (alleged) safety of the next door room. But the experiment worked:

Despite the technical hurdles, the centrifuge performed its job well … the lava lamp continues to operate well at three times the force of gravity. That’s slightly higher than Jupiter’s gravity (2.3 G) and it is equivalent to launching in the Space Shuttle.

Have a great weekend, and remember; be careful out there. You never know when you might come across a scientist building their own equipment, and taking photographs of it.

HeLa Cells from Jenny

Image credit: Jennifer Rohn, UCL

*/me checks letters after name. That’d be me, then!

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