This year, the Wellcome Image Awards – showcasing pictures by scientists – turn 20. They’ve continuously astounded audiences by showing the most normal of subjects in all sorts of weird new ways, thanks to the latest developments in imaging technology. And believe us, this year’s entries are no exception. Here are a few highlights that are especially jaw-dropping.
‘Cat Skin and Blood Supply’, David Linstead (pictured above)
The internet might be 98 percent images of cats – but here’s one with a difference, where we get up close and personal with the skin of a moggy through an imaging process called polarised light microscopy. See the thicker yellow strands? They’re whiskers: super-sensitive touch receptors which send the smallest of signals – even vibrations in the air – on a direct route to the brain. You can hardly blame cats for being nervy, based on this.
‘The Placenta Rainbow’, Suchita Nadkarni
These little sacks of protein were shot with the aid of lasers to help illuminate their carriers: mice 12 days into their 20-day pregnancies. Surely the hugest takeaway from the image is this: whoever would have guessed that mice placenta would turn out to resemble Jamaican patties? Ah, the wonders of nature.
‘Language Pathways of the Brain’, Stephanie J Forkel, Ahmad Beyh and Alfonso de Lara
Everybody knows the brain is full of grey matter – but it also contains white matter, which acts as a conduit for bits of information to zip around the brain. This unremarkable-looking, sluglike thing is actually called the arcuate fasciculus, which connects the two areas that deal with potentially the most incredible thing that human beings are capable of: language. The folks behind this image created it by making an MRI scan of a brain, sending the data into a 3D printer, then illuminating the model with all sorts of cool coloured lights.
'#Breastcancer Twitter Connections', Eric Clarke, Richard Arnett and Jane Burns
If Twitter feels increasingly like a labyrinth of faceless imbeciles all screaming ‘I HATE YOU!’ at each other, then take comfort in this picture. Using data visualisation, it essentially provides a map of all the tweets that feature the hashtag #breastcancer, each dot representing a user, each connecting line a particular relationship, such as retweeting. All looks a bit more harmonious from this perspective, right?
‘Hawaiian Bobtail Squid’, Mark R Smith
This little Pacific Ocean resident might only be 1.5cm long, but it’s tougher than it looks. The dark thing in the squid’s mantle cavity is a light organ that acts as a home for glowing bacteria, which also contains an ink sac that controls the organ’s light levels. This nifty little trick helps it hunt for shrimp near coral reefs at night.
‘Pigeon Thermoregulation’, Scott Echols
One of the few pictures in the awards where the subject is instantly recognisable. Using a technique called computed topography, this picture maps the countless blood vessels, capillaries and bones that can be found inside the humble pigeon, and is just a reminder of the staggering intricacy Mother Nature applies to her handiwork. Even the bits of it that spend their days lurking beside the bins outside Chicken Cottage.
The awards take place on March 15, and the images will be displayed in the windows of the Wellcome Trust. See www.wellcomeimageawards.org for more details, and more incredible (if occasionally icky) images.