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Compass Magazine, February 2003

The artistic side of biomedical research at the National Museum of Natural Science
Photos and text by Cheryl Robbins

       The National Museum of Natural Science is currently the location for a unique exhibition put together with the cooperation of the Wellcome Trust of England.

       The Wellcome Trust has its origins in a partnership formed between two young Americans in nineteenth-century London. Silas Mainville Burroughs and Henry Wellcome established a company to promote pharmaceuticals from America on the UK market. In 1895, Burroughs died, leaving the company in the hands of his able partner. In addition to running the pharmaceutical company, Wellcome set up several research laboratories--a highly original step at the time. After the turn of the century, he began to devote more time to his passion of collecting artifacts related to medicine. In his will, he created the Wellcome Trust, which continues to carry out his mission of advancing medical research and research into the history of medicine.

      The images on display in this exhibit are from the trust's TwoTen Gallery, which organized a series of innovative exhibitions on the relationship between medical science and art. These images were created during the process of biomedical research but, at first glance, appear more like modern art, with unexpected curves, randomly placed dots and strokes and shading.

       Take a closer look and, with the help of the printed explanations, you will find that you are looking at images of a human cancer cell, a section of small intestine, a deadly virus or a brain nerve cell. As this is an "imported" exhibition, it comes with English language explanations. Mandarin translations have been placed next to the English text.

       Most of the images are in color with a few black-and-white selections, as well as one three-dimensional (3D) image, and were produced using a variety of techniques. For example, a scanning electron microscope can capture color images of the porous bone of an osteoporosis sufferer, as well as the folds of the small intestine. This instrument can also be used to view the inside of a tumor.

      Images of cells can be created by a special contrast microscopy method, in which colors are produced by light interference and are related to differences in the thickness of the cell walls. A complexly beautiful image of a lethal virus can be produced using X-rays which pass through the virus and create a pattern on a photographic plate that can be analyzed by computer to produce a colorful representation of the virus' 3D structure. However, not all of the images on display were created by complicated techniques or expensive equipment. A black-and-white photo of colonies of bacteria seen under a normal light microscope looks like a priceless string of beads.

       All of the images are "Biomedical Images Award" winners. Each year, the Wellcome Trust selects biomedical research images for these awards, based on technical quality, imaginative or scientific nature of the subject matter and visual impact. Check out this exhibit and see for yourself how the human body can become an art form.

       ("The Art--Image of Science" Exhibit runs until May 22, 2003 and is located in the special exhibit gallery to the right of the entrance to the Life Science Hall of the National Museum of Natural Science.)


National Museum of Natural Science
1, GuanChian (KuanChien) Rd.
Tel: (04) 2322-6940 (ask for the information desk)



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