These Medical Images Make Earthly Organisms Look Alien
Human stem cell embedded in a 3D matrix, Cryo SEM. Image: Sílvia A Ferreira, Cristina Lopo and Eileen Gentleman, KCL

These Medical Images Make Earthly Organisms Look Alien

The Wellcome Image Award’s 20 winning pictures depict science in slick and quirky ways.
March 7, 2016, 10:30am

Earthly organisms appear like otherworldly alien life forms in this year's award-winning series of images from the Wellcome Image Awards.

The selection encompasses things like digitally reconstructed Terminator-esque skeletons, an infectious disease containment unit that looks like a scene straight out of an apocalyptic future, and a green and purple cross section of an Ebola virus that could pass as an alien's toothbrush. The images were taken using a variety of imaging techniques taken by practicing researchers.

Image: Thermal Vision Research

Raynaud's Phenomenon is a condition that affects the body's extremities such as the hands and feet. Once these parts are exposed to cold or stress, the blood vessels narrow, restricting blood flow to the tips. If this phenomenon happens to your hand, it'll make your finger tips look pale as less blood flow leads to a drop in temperature around those areas. When this condition is visualized using thermal infrared imaging, it allows the human eye to see the spread of heat around the hand. The image above shows what hands look like when they've been dunked and held in cold water for two minutes. The Raynaud's syndrome-affected hand is on the right, while the control hand is depicted on the left.

Image: Wellcome Images

The image above might look like a frame from a ghost movie, but it is in fact an infectious disease containment unit at London's Royal Free Hospital. When the Ebola virus was at its deadliest in 2014, medical experts used the unit to contain a patient in critical condition, infected by the virus while working as a nurse in Sierra Leone.

Image: Alfred Anwander, MPI-CBS

While this picture seems like an iridescent alien butterfly, it's actually a rear view on nerve fibers inside a healthy adult human's brain. To get such an image, researchers used a technique called diffusion magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This technique reconstructs the orientation of bundles of nerve fibers by measuring multi-directional water diffusion.

Image: Kim Baxter, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

While this looks like Superman's x-ray view of a town somewhere on planet Earth, it's actually the image of an eye suffering from Central Retinal Vein Occlusion. This is when the eye undergoes vascular changes owing to blockage in the central retinal vein.

Image: David S. Goodsell, RCSB Protein Data Bank

The above Ebola virus particle cross section, which could pass as an alien's toothbrush, if the image were caption-free is rendered in water colors. The actual virus is surrounded by a violet membrane that it thieved from an infected cell. The Turquoise segments that look like the bristles of the toothbrush are the Ebola glycoproteins.

The Wellcome Image Awards will be brought to 16 science centers, galleries, and museums from in the UK to Russia. The 20 winning images are deemed to the year's most creative when it comes to depicting science in both slick and quirky ways.