Wellcome Images is the world’s leading source of images of medicine and the Wellcome Image Awards is an annual competition wherein a panel of judges selects the year’s most striking photographs.
A quick view of the winner’s list shows scanning-electron, false-colour scanning, and confocal micrographs, as well as more traditional photographs. The cryptically-titled Image B0008257: Bacteria biofilm was one of this year’s winners. It is a confocal micrograph (in simpler terms: a photograph taken through a confocal microscope) which shows patterns of Bacillus subtilis, a relatively common soil-dwelling bacterium.
As part of a synthetic biology project different bacteria which showed different coloured fluorescent proteins were randomly placed on a single petri-dish. The scientists, Fernan Federici, Tim Rudge, PJ Steiner and Jim Haseloff, then proceeded to observe how the different bacteria grow and interact and then proceed to automatically arrange and organize themselves into amazing, reproducible patterns and shapes that resemble, strikingly, patterns of textile design such as those championed by the late master, Ottavio Missoni.
The patterns are mathematically predictable but nonetheless fascinating. Alice Roberts, the anatomist, author and TV presenter who was on the judging panel of this year’s prize, explained the committee’s decision to award this image. “At first glance, this looks like a richly patterned fabric—but look closely, and you can see the tiny grains, each one an individual bacterium,” Mrs. Roberts said.
The Wellcome Image Awards judges showed an ability to extract artistic achievement from the purely scientific field—a relationship that works both ways, as the art world has always, and will always, draw from the scientific for inspiration. Roberts continues, “researchers are very much artists as well as scientist: they have a fine appreciation of the aesthetic in their work.” We may add that artists should very much try to be scientists, as well.