Through the Lens winners capture research essence

Jul 12 2013

The 2013 HMRI Through the Lens photographic competition has been run and won, with two shots showing the stunningly beautiful world of science under the microscope scooping the respective categories.

The winner of the HMRI Choice is ‘Firetrails’, taken by research assistant Simone Stanger working for Dr Shaun Roman in the Biotechnology laboratory at the University of Newcastle. This laboratory is part of the Priority Research Centre in Reproductive Science which is headed by Laureate Professor John Aitken.

Simone is investigating a novel gene known as SPIF (Sperm PKA Interacting Factor) which is believed to play an important role in male infertility. The image depicts a mouse testis section under 100X magnification, which is stained with red and green tagged antibodies to show two different subunits of the enzyme with PKA (Protein Kinase A), a primary protein involved with sperm motility and subsequently fertility.

When the red and green tagged subunits co-localise to the same place,a yellow fluorescence is detected. In this case the sperm tails are fluorescing yellow resulting in the firetrail.

A research paper on the study is currently being prepared for publication.

Clear winner of the People’s Choice award, with almost a quarter of the votes, was the image ‘Snowflake’, contributed by Timothy Budden and Heather Murray from Dr Nikola Bowden’s melanoma research team.

In a case of “waste not, want not”, Heather says they were looking at melanoma cell survival in response to varying dosages of UV light. The cells were harvested from a tissue culture flask following the experiment and, before discarding, the flask was given a final check under microscope to ensure all the live and dead cells had been captured.

The flask turned out to be clear of cells but, amongst the laboratory “waste”, snow-like salt crystals had formed once the flask was removed from the incubator.

Second place in the public voting category went to ‘Firetrails’, narrowly ahead of another cellular entry titled ‘Scre-EM’, which bears an uncanny resemblance to the famous artwork known as ‘The Scream’

Taken by Andrew Reid, it shows a random assortment of cellular components as seen under an electron microscope – it was not modified in any way except for cropping.

Runner up in HMRI Choice showed a young woman inside an inflatable snow globe, hiding a serious intent which was to recruit a new cohort of the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (ALSWH).

Over the past 17 years the study has collected data from 40,000 Australian women (born in 1973-78, 1946-51 and 1921-26) who were recruited through a traditional method, mailing invitations to a population sample using Medicare data.

Recruiting women aged 18-23 today is a different story, with the ALSWH team employing fun and exciting strategies to encourage young women to take part in the study. The snow globe was one such drawcard and captures the diversity of the groundwork that goes into research.

The competition attracted more than 50 entries, all taken by researchers aligned with HMRI during the first week of June (Medical Research Week). While many showed science miraculously imitating art, it wasn’t all about electron microscopes.

Research can also mean talking with clinical trial participants or sitting at an office desk … Ordinary people doing extraordinary things is the essence of this photographic essay. See the finalists here.

Thank you to all those who took part. We hope you enjoy!


‘Snowflake’, showing crystalised salt in a cell flask, is the People’s Choice winner.