On Wednesday last I was fortunate to find myself an outlier among the great and the good at the Wellcome Trust Image Awards for 2011, where hefty glass slabs were being handed out by Adam Rutherford as prizes to imaginative individuals who had conjured a captivating image from their scientific work. The picture below of a blood clot forming underneath a sticking plaster was one of my favourite prize winners (perhaps because of my long-standing interest in blood):
I was struck by the fact that most of twenty or so awards were for micrographs of one sort or another. Microscopy offers high-resolution access to a unseen world, one that is — in most cases — at the very edge of our perception and so benefits from the excitement of revealing familiar objects in unfamiliar but spectacular detail. It’s a thrill that is as old as the microscope, as Robert Hooke so ably demonstated with his 17th Century bestseller, Micrographia.
Now I don’t wish to bang on about the wonders of molecules again, but I was left feeling a little disappointed that no structural biologists working at the atomic level were to be found among the award winners. I don’t even know if there were any molecular submissions.
But I now see this as a challenge for next year and call upon the protein crystallographers, NMR spectroscopists and cryo-electron microscopists (those engaged in three-dimensional reconstructions) to fire up their computers and their imaginations for the competition in 2012. I’ve made a start — you can see below something rough and ready that I knocked together this evening using a photo editor to assemble molecular images of albumin made with Qutemol (a somewhat limited program that is nonetheless quite, um, cute):
Not too shabby but plenty of room for improvement. I reckon I’ve got almost a year to perfect my technique.