Monday, 16 July 2012


Wellcome Image Awards         Pictures copyright: Annie Cavanagh and David Mccarthy

.At first glance could these be  abstract paintings? The one on the right is perhaps slightly unsettling:  those golden globes  are neither completely embedded in the green spikes, nor are they nestling on the top.  And the spikes themselves look like barbed wire covered in Fuzzy Felt

In fact what the Wellcome is showing us is work done by medical researchers. 'Scientific images often reveal a world hidden to our normal sense of vision.  They are not merely tools for research but  are capable of inspiring people and sparking their curiosity', writes Dr Mark Petronczki of Cancer Research UK.  Could it also be said that this is the latest, the very latest, expression of  an art genre beloved for centuries in this country and in Europe: detailed, technically accurate,  exquisite drawings and paintings, especially watercolours, of flowers and living plants.
This false-coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) shows on the right the surface of a lavender leaf, imaged at 200 microns, covered with fine hair-like outgrowths made from specialised cells. These outgrowths keep frost at bay, make sure that pests are unwelcome,  and break up the air flow to reduce evaporation. From the orange globes, lavender yields a sweet oil widely used in balms, salves, perfumes, and cosmetics. It's also believed to aid relaxation and sleep, and  to calm the anxious.

The beautiful explosion on the left is nothing less than a loperamide crystal.  Loperamide is an antimotility drug, well known as a very good friend to anyone stricken with diarrhoea. Among other properties it also acts like blessed morphia, lessening the pain by decreasing muscle tone. The crystal group - seen as never before - measures approximately 250 microns across.

The light boxes displaying the images are in a small black gallery at the Wellcome, quiet as a chapel (if you are alone). If you can't get there, I suggest you browse the gallery on  

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