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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 September 2005, 23:28 GMT 00:28 UK
Photos get the flavour of science
By Jonathan Amos
BBC News science reporter

Season's greetings (David McCarthy)

A close-up image of a peppercorn and a grain of sea salt has won this year's Visions of Science photo competition.

The picture was taken using a scanning electron microscope (SEM) by David McCarthy from the School of Pharmacy, at the University of London.

The competition, which is sponsored by Novartis and The Daily Telegraph, has thrown up a diverse mix of imagery - from the technical to the conceptual.

David said his probing shot of table condiments was "just a bit of fun".

Normally, he would be using his expensive and sensitive instrument for more important tasks, such as the investigation of drug delivery systems.

It's so simple, it's so obvious; you wished you'd taken it yourself
Adam Hart-Davis
"But I sometimes produce Christmas cards for my girlfriend and every year it gets more and more difficult," he told the BBC News website.

"She always puts too much salt and pepper on her food so I thought, 'I know what I'll do."

Hot topic

TV science presenter Adam Hart-Davis said his fellow judges were almost unanimous in their decision to make the salt and pepper picture the overall winner.

"It's so simple, it's so obvious; you wished you'd taken it yourself," he said. "You couldn't have done, of course, because not everyone has access to a SEM - but the fact it makes you feel that way tells you it's a great picture."

The 10 category winners of the 2005 competition

Electron micrographs have come to dominate the Visions of Science awards in recent years.

Their detail is startling, but what many who see them may not realise is that the colours are "false" - they have been added to the black and white source image in a software package.

In this picture, University of London colleague Annie Cavanagh added an orange colour to the peppercorn as a reference to the Sun - both objects are hot. The salt grain took a blue hue because the crystal comes from the sea.

Plastic fantastic

It would be wrong, though, to think Visions of Science is all about close-up photography.

Amanda Rebbechi's portrait of prosthetic arms is a comic view of real life. It won the People category.

Helping hands (Amanda Rebbechi)

Amanda is a medical photographer at Addenbrooke's hospital in Cambridge.

Her usual duties are very broad. She may be called upon to document injuries or, at the other extreme, to do promotional shots for hospital projects.

"This was more of a personal project," she said. "I often walk past the clinical schools unit and see all these body parts and was quite curious to go in and see them.

"These arms are used by doctors to learn canulation. Normally, the tutor wouldn't carry so many all at once; I just thought it would be a comical image for her to carry that many."

Partners in grime

Jim Greenfield's shot of a shrimp dancing across the teeth of a fish would not look out of place in a wildlife photography competition.

Instead, Jim's picture finds itself the Action category winner in Visions of Science. The retired building society manager has a passion for diving and marine biology.

Prawn service (Jim Greenfield)

He obtained this image 10m down, off Curacao, Netherlands Antilles.

"There are large anemones that are recognised by fish as cleaning stations," Jim said.

"They all house these little cleaner shrimps. At certain times of the day, the fish will cruise in and just wait there with their mouths open. And the shrimps just walk across the sand and climb on."

It is a good deal both sides: the fish are cleaned of their parasites and the shrimp get a good meal.

Going down

One image in this year's competition seems to provoke a particular fascination in all who see it - and, yes, it is another SEM picture.

Anne Weston is a scientific officer at Cancer Research UK. She has produced a striking image of a cancer cell moving across a gel-covered piece of filter paper.

Cancer on the move (Anne Weston)

The cell is caught as it attempts to dive down a pore in the paper.

"These cells always seem to want to travel downwards. They find the easiest route and go down the hole," Anne told the BBC News website.

"This cell was part of a sample in an ongoing project in the field of tumour biology. We were fortunate enough to find the cell in the process of passing through a pore and thought that it nicely illustrates a cell in motion."

Anne's image won the Medicine and Life section.

All the pictures in Visions of Science will be featured in two exhibitions that will now tour the UK.

  • 29 Sep 2005 - 14 Nov 2005: London Science Museum
  • 1 Oct 2005 - 13 Jan 2006: Glasgow Science Centre
  • 21 Nov 2005 - 25 Jan 2006: Newcastle International Centre for Life
  • 21 Jan 2006 - 5 Feb 2006: Oxford Science Festival
  • 4 Feb 2006 - 18 Mar 2006: Buxton Museum & Art Gallery, Derbyshire
  • 6 Feb 2006 - 10 Feb 2006: John Cleveland College, Leicestershire
  • 22 Feb 2006 - 26 Feb 2006: Brighton City College
  • 13 Mar 2006 - 22 Mar 2006: Wrexham NEWI
  • 15 Mar 2006 - 26 Mar 2006: Cambridge Science Festival
  • 31 Mar 2006 - 28 Apr 2006: Winchester INTECH
  • 1 Apr 2006 - 14 May 2006: Belfast W5
  • 6 Apr 2006 - 15 Apr 2006: Edinburgh Science Festival
  • 6 May 2006 - 10 Jun 2006: Haslemere Museum, Surrey
  • 20 May 2006 - 29 Jun 2006: @Bristol
  • 7 Jun 2006 - 11 Jun 2006: Cheltenham Town Hall
  • 17 Jun 2006 - 16 Jul 2006: Brighton Booth Museum of Natural History
  • 6 Jul 2006 - 3 Sep 2006: Birmingham Thinktank
  • 25 Aug 2006 - 24 Sep 2006: Catmose Gallery, Rutland

    Some dates and venues still need to be confirmed. The Visions of Science website will carry full details.

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