Page last updated at 07:54 GMT, Thursday, 15 October 2009 08:54 UK

The art of science

By Anna-Marie Lever
Health reporter, BBC News


Sir Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust, talks about his top three images in the display

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.

But the images that have gone on display at London's Wellcome Collection could equate to several thousand words - and many years work for the scientists who captured them.

The Wellcome Image Awards reveal the stories behind science.

Stunning images of summer plankton, bird of paradise seeds and liver cells show how scientific imaging can help further research while pleasing the eye.

Skin cells from burn
Skin cells from a burn caused by spilling boiling soup

Sir Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust, says: "The exhibition brings science to people and it shows them how beautiful objects actually are.

"For the scientist, it tells of the importance of looking at small things. If you can see the structure, that tells you something about how it works.

"There is an image of a hair follicle and that shows you why it hurts when you pull a hair out - you can see the dense network of fibres around the base of the hair under the skin."

He goes on to say: "One of last year's winners, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, exhibited an image of the structure of a ribosome (used to read DNA), and just recently he won a Nobel prize for chemistry for determining that structure."

How the scientists did it

A number of scientific techniques have been used to create the pictures. The swirling images of compact bone and rope like small blood vessels of an ox's eye use light microscopy.

This is where light is passed though the object and then through a magnifying lens.

The image of flaking skin and lung cancer cells were made using scanning electron microscopy. Here, minute samples are sprayed with a heavy metal, such as gold or platinum, and hit with an electron beam.

Sculpture created by MRI scans
Science as art - a glass sculpture made from MRI scans

This causes electrons, negatively charged subatomic particles, to be emitted and the pattern forms an image giving much higher magnification power compared to a light microscope.

The 19 pictures on display were judged to be the best new images acquired by the Wellcome Image picture library in the past 18 months.

Another exhibition, The Future Can Wait, at a gallery in east London, shows science as art appears to be an increasing explored subject.

Here, life-size sculptures of the artist, Marilene Oliver, and her family are made from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) body scans.

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