Where Science & Art Converge
By Robin Jay
Live-cell digital imaging gives a whole new meaning to an “inside look” at anatomy, worthy of gracing walls of a fine art gallery.
In this era of visual stimulation, photographers must continuously raise the bar on special effects in order to compel their spectators. But if you think such achievements are limited to the intuitive hands of computer-generated filmmakers like J.J. Abrams or George Lucas, think again. Advances in digital photomicrography are now shining the spotlight on the authentic talents of none other than Mother Nature and the scientists and engineers who’ve designed the technology to capture the mindboggling images she creates.
If you’re an art enthusiast, study the images in this layout and tell us what you see? Can you detect the anglerfish ovary, the bird of paradise seed, the soap film or the honeybee eye and pollen spores? Judges at the annual Nikon Small World Photomicrography competition can – and have been for longer than you might imagine. The scientific camera capabilities have become so advanced and the images so fascinating, that the four-decades-old competition is now attracting art collectors. South Florida Opulence sat down with Eric Flem at Nikon Instruments for a truly inside look at this fascinating genre of photography.
“There have been huge advancements over the past years in microscopy and related imaging,” said Flem. “One of the biggest leaps forward has occurred with the advent of digital imaging. Microscopy has been around since the 1600s, and imaging what was seen under the scope evolved along with camera technology. From early days of literally sketching what was seen [such as the famous anatomical drawings of Leonardo da Vinci], to attaching film cameras to the equipment, and most recently digital cameras.
“However, the digital camera has opened new realms to the scientist that has not been previously available and not really applicable to consumer and artistic photography. Digital cameras use digital data to create an image. And by doing so, this has allowed for much more sensitive scientific imaging equipment, but also has allowed further advancement by utilizing the digital image as DATA rather than simply as a means to create a visual image. This has allowed for the creation of imagery using the data pulled from the image and literally allowed scientists to see beyond what can be visually seen in a subject.
“The overall goal of photography through the microscope is different from conventional photography,” Flem explained.
“Although many of the Small World competition entries – like conventional photography – are captured by artists striving for visual expression, the majority of microscopy (and the technology that goes with it) is designed with a goal to SEE things better and the ability to analyze what they do see.
“This circumstance creates technologies for imaging that would not normally even be considered or necessary for conventional photography. The microscope business is quite unique in that development of new and cutting-edge equipment and techniques requires the expertise and collaboration between the research community and the engineers that build this equipment. Frequently, these people work together to innovate, develop and bring to market new equipment technology.”
“An excellent example would be fluorescence, which uses fluorescent dyes that are triggered by certain wavelengths of light. These dyes are attached to the
various parts of the sample being studied. Once these cells are hit with the certain wavelength of light, the section they are attached to lights up. This technology has greatly enabled the research community to see things not previously visible, and apply this basic concept to a host of new techniques and technologies. This has given scientists a great leap forward in their ability to see and analyze their respective fields of study.”
One photographer who has won multiple awards at the photomicrography competition is Viktor Sykora, a biomedical researcher at the 1st Faculty of Medicine of the Charles University in Prague. “One of the amazing features of scientific work is that it often reveals to us new, fascinating and beautiful views of the world around us,” said Sykora, who has published two scholarly photomicrography books: Secrets of Plants and Invisible Human World. “And because my hobby is photography, I try to connect science and art in my work. I’m constantly seeking new ways to view the world. ”
The photomicrographs could be also taken by other methods than light microscopy used in Small World contest. One such example is a scanning electron microscope microphoto of begonia crassicaulis taken by Sykora (shown on previous page).
Judges at the Nikon Small World competition score entries based on technical merit, scientific relevance, and visual impact. To see the tremendous gallery of past winners and other fascinating photomicrography artistic specimens, go to nikonsmallworld.com.