As the year draws to a close, I thought it was about time I summed up the School of Clinical Sciences 2016 calendar. At around the time of Bristol Bright Night in September 2015, the School Manager mentioned to me that she’d like to produce a calendar of images that would display the breath of research and other activities carried out within the School. Now, graphic design and typesetting are in my blood: my dad worked as a graphic artist for many years before he retired, and during my PhD at University College London I worked as a Designer on the graduate magazine, Sophia. I love print and found that there was a local company, Whitehall Printing, who prints calendars for very reasonable prices.
However, I may actually be considered to be an avid campaigner against the portrayal of research images as art (see, e.g. Fluorescent Microscope Images as Art, Fluorescent Images as Art II: The individual and Cell microscopy images; Abstract art). I therefore decided to undertake this project with the specific aim of displaying the activities of the School in a visual way, rather than aiming to produce a collection of artwork. Additionally, this provided a way of producing marketing material for myself and the School, and presented a means through which I could network and begin conversations about art and science. If I was given the opportunity to produce a calendar like this again, I’d be keen to sell some to raise funds for a medical research charity. Instead, these calendars were given as a gift to each member of the School of Clinical Sciences and have brightened up our desk spaces all year.
The cover is an image submitted by Dr. Jason Johnson, Research Fellow, and “shows the co-existence of good (red) and bad (green) immune cells, a battle which can dictate the outcome of inflammatory cardiovascular diseases”.
January is a series of images submitted by Dr. Stephen Lolait, Senior Research Fellow. Originally, Steve had intended I choose just one image but I was able to show him how they could be more interesting visually when shown tiled as a set. Some other images in this series originally submitted were later withdrawn as they were in press elsewhere.
The images show “Vasopressin receptor expression (red-yellow) in the hippocampal CA2 region of the mouse brain. Vasopressin affects social behaviour (e.g. social recognition/memory) in part by activating its receptors in the CA2”. Dr. Georgina Russell told me that she remembered the images being taken, and seeing them again had brought back fond memories from her PhD. I found this interesting since the ability to evoke a strong reaction is something that art can do, yet these are pieces of scientific data.
Dr. Elisa Avolio, Research Assistant and former colleague of mine in the Bristol Heart Institute, submitted this “confocal immunofluorescence image showing a section of a murine infarcted heart (cardiomyocytes are in magenta) receiving cell therapy with human stem cells (in green)”. Pink heart cells? Of course I had to choose these for February.
For March, a powerful black and white image submitted by Sandro Satta, Research Technician, entitled quite simply, ‘Macrophage Invasion’.
I have to admit I wasn’t exactly falling over submissions for the calendar, and there was quite a lot of arm-twisting going on – the deadline for submission of images was put back multiple times such that I was signing off final proofs with the printers as I sanded floors during a week of annual leave at the beginning of December, and the final printed calendars only just reached the University before we broke up for Christmas (although it wasn’t until 20th January that they had started to be distributed). I think it’s fair to say there was resistance from my colleagues to submit an image; many simply said they do not use a microscope in their work, others were fiercely against the idea that what they do could in any way be considered art. I tried to convince them that I was with them on that point, and that this was our opportunity to do something different, but there is no persuading some people.
I had hoped I could inspire them to think about images that might show something about what it is like to be a scientist, perhaps some photographs showing what only they might see staying late in the lab, or an image that captures their own excitement for their research. This photograph by Rana Fareed, MD student, shows the underside of a “PCR plate with Sybr Green”, and is the first image in the calendar that shows that it’s not just microscope images of cells and tissues that can be beautiful.
May was the month that had us all chuckling. A couple of women in my office joked to Peter Gardiner (pictured) that they wished they didn’t have to see his face every day. In reply they received a different photograph of Peter in their email inbox every single day for the whole month.
A couple of people did try to use their image to convey a message. June was Dr. Caroline Jarrett’s piece, ‘Symmetry in Science’, which I think could be interpreted as a cry for help. “It’s all the same!” the work shouts to me. Caroline has since moved on to Physics.
Back to the beautiful microscopy images for July. This image is by Jack Tuffin, PhD student, and shows “an artificially coloured SEM image of human podocytes and GEnCs growing in 3D on a specialised scaffold/gel hybrid. Cells are seen to form multi-cell type 3D tissues.”
August is certainly one of my favourite images; it is a well-composed, evocative piece and shows what remains when all of the cells are taken away from the sac around a pig heart. I like the literal title given by its scientist-creator, ‘X marks the spot’ – I hadn’t even noticed the big ‘X’ at the centre of the image but was instead fascinated by how the substance left behind looks like string, wool or some kind of sticky thread. This piece is by Megan Swim, PhD student.
‘Cell layers in part of the mouse hippocampal formation’ is a watercolour painting by Emma Victoria Earl, PhD student. This piece was made specifically for the calendar, following on from a series of conversations I had with Emma at the Society for Endocrinology BES in Edinburgh, November 2015.
You might be interested to know that Emma makes and sells her own jewellery – search ‘smallbearcraft’ on Etsy, Instagram or Twitter.
The School of Clinical Sciences encompasses a wide range of different activities, from basic science through to translational and clinical work. This image submitted by Oliver Bintcliffe, Clinical Research Fellow – MD student, shows the “extraction of lung density measures from a chest computed tomography scan”.
We are also home to ‘Diabetologia’, the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes. This image celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the journal, and was contributed by Katherine Thomasset, Senior Copy-Editor.
Lastly, December’s image was captured by Dr. Yasuko Kobayashi, Honorary Research Associate in Bristol Renal. Yasuko had a desk next to mine in the Dorothy Hodgkin Building before she returned to Japan to resume her clinical work earlier this year. Her confocal microscope image shows an “immortalised healthy human podocyte stained for stress fibres (red) and beta 3 integrin in active form (green)”.