NATURAL SCIENCE

EyePoppers: The Best Science Photos of the Week

Science labs across the world churn out the most startling images—maps of the human brain, cancer research that shows how molecules interact, DNA sequences that look like works of art. In this one gallery, we round up the latest findings in the world of science, as told through pictures. These shots come from remote places around the globe—including a science lab in middle of the Indian Ocean, research institutions at major US universities like Harvard and Cornell, and drug labs in Europe. By John Brandon

Alien Invader or Wildflower?

This extreme close-up of a wildflower took second place in the Nikon Small World competition. Magnified 150 times, the yellow flower looks like an alien antennae, but it's actually a cross-section of one blossom stem from a wildflower known as the sonchus asper. Gerd A. Guenther, an organic farmer from Düsseldorf in Germany, took the photo on his own farm.

Nikon Small World

First Place in Genome Wars

This up-close-and-personal image took first place in the Nikon Small World competition, but it's a first in another way as well: The plant (known in scientific circles as Arabidopsis thaliana) is the first to have its genome sequenced. Dr. Heiti Paves of the Tallinn University of Technology in Estonia used confocal microscopy to capture this shot. Dr. Paves also studies chicken embryo development and embryonic neurons.

Nikon Small World

Antlion in Your Sandals

Is this a horrifying creature from Mars or just a bed bug that could be resting under your pillow right now? Thankfully, it's neither. The 13x magnification shows a larval-stage antlion, more commonly called a doodlebug or sand bug. Found mainly on dry and sandy beaches in North America and Europe, there are at least 200 species of the antlion. The strands that look like hair are actually more like antennas (called chitin) that sense temperature and chemical changes.

Janice Haney Carr

LHC Fully Operational

The Large Hadron Collider, part of the CERN lab in Geneva, is now operational. This simulation shows how two lead ions (atoms that have lost or gained one or more electrons) could collide. The quarks (protons and neutrons) are in red, blue and green. The hadrons (a subatomic particle composed of quarks that cause a reaction) are shown in white. 

The particle accelerator, which experienced problems about a year ago and again this summer, may help scientists determine the origin of the universe. The LHC was featured prominently in the opening sequences of the movies "Angels & Demons," directed by Ron Howard.

CERN

Measuring Storm Height

NASA's CloudSat satellite captures Typhoon Nida as it moves over the Western Pacific Ocean. Over the weekend, scientists discovered that the cloud tips were not as high as once thought, which means fewer thunderstorms. Winds are still running as high as 100 MPH, and as of Monday, the weather formation was a Cat 1 storm. The storm approached Guam, causing massive waves, but winds subsequently weakened.

NASA, MODIS

Jumping Peptides

Models of tiny protein segments, called peptides, are shown on a real image of the atomic layer of a crystal structure in this composition from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. The biomolecules are difficult to show in any detail on an atomic surface without fudging the data. In the study, the peptides would attack the molecule of an atomic particle, then jump to the next particle. 

The research helps explain the process of biomineralization, a process where organic materials control the growth of inorganic crystals, which can prevent unhealthy deformations in the body.

James De Yoreo and Raymond Friddle / Lawrence Livermore and Berkeley National Labs

Complex plant lattices

Intertwining lattices—threads that measure just 100- to 200-nm each—twisting in a helix, a 3D curvature in space. This plant cell shows a synaptonemal complex, which is a cell division that promotes reproduction. The photographer, Dr. Chung-Ju Rachel Wang, won second prize at the Olympus BioScapes Digital Imaging Competition with this shot. The yearly competition is now taking submissions for 2010.

Dr. Chung-Ju Rachel Wang/Olympus BioScapes Digital Imaging Competition

A Water Flea Gets Angry

A water flea, measuring just a millimeter or two, raises a crown (shown at upper left) as a defensive posture to ward off nearby shrimp, its primary foe that—thankfully—emits a distinct chemical in the ocean as a sign of approach. The exoskeleton is shown in green and tiny nuclei are shown with small blue dots all over the upper body. This photo took first place in the Olympus BioScapes Digital Imaging Competition.

Jan Michels/Olympus BioScapes Digital Imaging Competition

Finding the Cancer Cell

Half the battle in finding a cure for cancer is discovering the disease's origin. This month, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology identified for the first time these pre-cancerous cells, which form into a cluster that express a protein (called pdx1) and gene (called K-ras) that lead to pancreatic cancer. The clusters can also form into later stage tumors. The finding is important because it will help doctors diagnose pancreatic cancer that — like brain cancer — is often found too late.

MIT

DNA Soup

Diseases such as cystic fibrosis and Miller syndrome are hard to pin down. Doctors don't often know what happens in the gene mutations, so finding a cure is especially difficult. 

The University of Washington has developed a sequencing technique for exomes (subsets of the genome) that found the gene mutation in Miller syndrome, and reveals how exome sequencing can aid in gene research. In this image, four colors represent the four DNA strands: adenine, thymine, guanine, and cytosine.

University of Washington

Mouse X-Ray

A microscopic view of mouse cartilage shows how arthritis has developed at left, and how a new drug treatment—developed at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto—has blocked it. 

"This is the first work that I am aware of that identifies a drug to target the development of joint lining chondrocyte cells to make them behave more like regenerating joint cells, rather that degenerating osteoarthritis cells," says Dr. Ben Alman, a SickKids surgeon. His work could help prevent osteoarthritis growth in patients and negate the need for total joint replacement.

SickKids.ca

Deep Water Mystery

This Hatchet fish, caught in the Indian Ocean on November 15, is a rare find. The fish has one of the longest daily migrations in the world, rising 700m to the surface each day and then descending to the depths again to digest. 

"This animal comes from the twilight zone where there is still a low level of light but not visible to human eyes," says Sarah Gotheil, an IUCN Global Marine Programme researcher who spoke with us from the Indian Ocean. IUCN seeks to reveal deep water mysteries.

IUCN.org/Oddgeir Alvheim

Supercomputer Vs. Cat Brain

IBM, along with Stanford University, has released new images that show how the connections work in the brain. The tests, announced this week, mimic the cortical structure of a cat's brain, which has over 1 billion activate neurons and ten trillion learning synapses. 

The the brain is the ultimate computer. Understanding the connections, storage locations, and even low power usage and perception abilities will lead to future advances in computers, and someday the ability to mimic the human brain. 

IBM/Stanford

Networks on Light Beams

Today’s fastest computers could exchange bits of data on light beams, which are screamingly faster than ordinary data networks. But because there’s no such thing as an optical transistor, those light beams—or photonic networks—are limited by today’s electronics. A new optical switch, developed at Cornell, could turn that on its ear.

Says Gustavo Wiederhecker, a Cornell researcher, "Whenever switching is required, optical-to-electronic conversion is necessary, limiting the potential throughput of optical networks. Our device might form the basis for tunable switching in the optical domain."

Cornell University

Targeting Cancer

The Tulane Cancer Center in New Orleans will be the first in the US to treat prostate cancer with a new experimental drug already being tested in Europe. The drug, called Alpharadin, destroys cancer cells that have spread to the bone (highlighted in the image) while leaving healthy bone marrow intact. The drug treats late-stage prostate cancer, which kills about 27,000 men each year in the US.

Tulane Cancer Center

Water on the Moon

This "ejecta plume" on the moon shows vapor spraying from the planet's surface just a few seconds after the LCROSS Centaur satellite—launched two months ago—made impact on October 9. 

Late last week, NASA revealed its analysis of the moon's composition: The material, probably a mixture of hydrogen or other dense materials, was in a deep crater and has been dormant for billions of years. The discovery provides  much-needed reinvigoration for a possible moon-landing in the next decade.

NASA

EyePoppers: The Best Science Photos of the Week

Science labs across the world churn out the most startling images—maps of the human brain, cancer research that shows how molecules interact, DNA sequences that look like works of art. In this one gallery, we round up the latest findings in the world of science, as told through pictures. These shots come from remote places around the globe—including a science lab in middle of the Indian Ocean, research institutions at major US universities like Harvard and Cornell, and drug labs in Europe. By John Brandon

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