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Wellcome Image Awards 2012

By Clare S Ryan, on 21 June 2012

Visual imagery is a particularly powerful way of getting people to see science in a different way – as a source of beauty – as well as providing important information about the world around us.

The Wellcome Trust knows this perhaps better than anyone. Their annual Wellcome Image Awards celebrate the best images submitted to their archive in the previous year, and, as usual, UCL scientists get a particularly good showing.

Out of a total of 16 winners, four UCL images were presented with awards by the host Fergus Walsh, the BBC’s medical correspondent.

Three of UCL’s winning images were taken by the same team- Annie Cavanagh and David McCarthy from the UCL School of Pharmacy. Two images were of crystals; the first, a false-colour magnification of caffeine crystal, reminiscent of particularly beautiful sticks of rhubarb.

Their second image was of a star-shaped loperamide crystal, which, as Fergus Walsh pointed out, is better known for treating diarrhoea (somewhat less visually appealing).

The team’s final winning image was a false-coloured scanning electron micrograph of the surface of a lavender leaf imaged at 200 microns. Up this close, the globules of lavender oil look a bit like fragile eggs nestling in a thorn bush.

On receiving the award, Anne Cavanagh said: “Caffeine is a topic we’ve both got a particular interest in! This crystal was tricky to grow and equally tricky to photograph. As it was so fragile, we had to take the photo under a partial vacuum.”

The other UCL image was a photograph of a living human brain during a surgical procedure to treat a patient with epilepsy, taken by Robert Ludlow (UCL Institute of Neurology). This image was particularly honoured as the overall winner of the Wellcome Image awards.

Professor Alice Roberts, who was a member of the judging panel, said: “This is a remarkable image of a human brain. What makes it so different from most images of the surface of the brain is that this organ is living- this is a brain as it is encountered during neurosurgery.

“Through the skill of the photographer, we have the privilege of seeing something that is normally hidden away inside our skulls. The arteries are bright scarlet with oxygenated blood, the veins deep purple and the ‘grey matter’ of the brain a flushed, delicate pink. It is quite extraordinary.”

Robert Ludlow is a medical photographer, who has to work around clinicians to capture images with no control over lighting or conditions.

What made this image stand out from the rest was not just its arresting aesthetic qualities, but its practical use to clinicians. Robert’s photographs are essential for helping doctors to make diagnoses in this case for epilepsy.

The Awards will be on display at Wellcome Collection until December 2012. I recommend going down during your lunch break to have a look – prepare to have your eyes opened!

Credit: Derek Tutssel receiving the Wellcome Image Award 2012 from Fergus Walsh of the BBC on behalf of Robert Ludlow

Check out the UCL winners in the Flickr gallery below:

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