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The art of science

BBSRC's inaugural science photo competition reveals the beauty of bioscience

18 February 2010

In the course of their everyday work, many researchers make images that are beautiful as well as informative, aesthetically pleasing in their symmetry, or as curious visually as they are outright strange.

The last 50 years have seen an explosion in the number of imaging techniques used to capture the natural world. Where there was once x-rays there are now positron emission and magnetic resonance imaging; scanning electron microscopes have been superseded by scanning tunnelling and atomic force microscopes; and even the humble light microscope - and invention centuries old - can now produce a 'phase contrast', 'fluorescence' or 'polarised light micrograph' image.

Crucially, the price of such technology has fallen in relative terms over the years, bringing advanced imaging methods to more laboratories, more people, and then into the public eye as the aesthetic merits of the resulting images could no longer be ignored.

The public has shown a keen appetite for the sensory assault of scientific imagery, consuming 'sci-art' exhibitions and shows, while the pictures lavishly adorn mainstream books and magazines.

Photo opportunity

To encourage and recognise scientists and PhD students who could combine a passion for their science with an eye for a striking image, BBSRC launched its inaugural Science Photo Competition.

BBSRC wanted to see images that capture the excitement of seeking knowledge, the intricacies of research and the sheer beauty within biosciences.

The competition aimed to raise the profile of BBSRC science by providing a wider audience for excellent photographs of science or scientific impact, especially the actions and outcomes of BBSRC-funded research, such as crops in the field or healthcare in action. Any scientist or student supported by BBSRC could enter the competition, as well as staff employed at BBSRC institutes.

There were 3 categories:

  • Illustrations of concepts in any area of contemporary bioscience research, including standard, generated or computer-manipulated images
  • Scientific images illustrating the science underpinning agriculture, food, and diet and health
  • Images of people that convey either the role of researchers or the impact of research on everyday life

121 images were received from 44 entrants and the judges were not disappointed with the entries.

The winners and runners-up in each category are presented below with a selection of high-scoring or commendable images. See how for more information on how the prizes were awarded.

Winning images

Click on the thumbnail below to view the image. Click on the preview image to view the full-size image.

How was the competition judged?

As stated in the Terms & Conditions of the competition, entries were judged on aesthetic merit, and the ability to convey with creative flair complex scientific subjects in research, issues in science and society, life in research, as well as contemporary topics in bioscience (such as, but not limited to, food security, bioenergy, and health) that help fulfil BBSRC's remit to disseminate knowledge and encourage public awareness and dialogue.

Three judges were sent all the images and a scoring sheet and were blind to each others' identities and scores. None of the judges were BBSRC employees. Each judge scored every image, and the highest total score was declared the overall winner. The highest and second highest scores in each category were then declared the winner and runner up for that category.

This feature can be republished without charge provided BBSRC is informed and acknowledged as the source. Please link back to 'BBSRC News' at

Permission must be granted for images or videos to be reused. For further information contact


Arran Frood

tel: 01793 413329