Planet Earth

Intimate Glimpses of Life Around and Within Us

High-tech photography offers stunning perspectives — from the tiniest creatures to the landscape of the human body.

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The Wellcome Image Awards celebrate the best in science imaging talent and techniques. These are the 18 images chosen as winners of the 2014 competition.

From microscopic images of a kidney stone to an X-ray of a bat or a cross-section of a flower bud, the images show in minute detail the wonder that can be found in the world around and within us. 

Photo Credits: Anders Persson/Wellcome Trust

Here, a unique look at a seal’s facial features courtesy of a computed tomography (CT) scan.

Virtual slices of the seal were taken using X-rays, and the slices were used to create a 3-D digital image of the seal’s face and skull. This is an extremely useful technique for non-invasively investigating and diagnosing medical conditions. 

Photo Credits: Eberhardt Josué Friedrich Kernahan and Enrique Rodríguez Cañas/Wellcome Trust

Who knew agricultural sludge could be so beautiful? This is a scanning electron micrograph of burned industrial farming waste. The waste was burned to determine how much carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen and sulfur it contained. The pink, purple and green structures are silver oxide, and the brown rods are calcium carbonate.

This burning technique is used in environmental studies to verify the quality or contamination of fuels and soils. 

Photo Credits: Anders Persson

This image was created using a new type of scan known as dual-energy computed tomography (DECT).

The technique uses two sources of X-rays at different energies to scan a patient, allowing for a more informative resulting image.

This person has a mechanical heart pump inside their chest. The pump is wired to the left side of the diseased heart and to the aorta.

This innovative look into the body was the overall winner of the Wellcome Image Awards.

Photo Credits: Kevin MacKenzie/Wellcome Trust

It’s a sight no parent wants to see on their child: head lice eggs, or 'nits.'

Head lice feed on human blood and live in close proximity to the scalp. When it comes time to lay eggs, females attach their egg sacks firmly to strands of hair.

You’re looking at one of those eggs — about 1.5 millimeters — clinging to a human hair. Lice eggs typically hatch within seven to ten days. 

Photo Credits: Kevin MacKenzie/Wellcome Trust

Kidney stones form when salts, minerals and chemicals in urine clump together and solidify. The jagged stone you see, about 2 millimeters, was removed from the man who created this image.

Kidney stones vary in size and are often passed naturally. But larger stones can get stuck in the kidneys and cause a lot of pain and discomfort. If a stone cannot be passed naturally, surgery may be required. 

Photo Credits: Dr. Henry Oakeley

The plant Astantia major goes by many names, but it is commonly known as Hadspen Blood. It is a perennial that is native to central and eastern Europe, and blooms from June to August.

It was once used to treat cramps, heart failure, ulcers, wounds, bad breath and toothaches. However, it is no longer used due to its strong laxative effect, and it may also induce abortions. 

Photo Credits: Sergio Bertazzo/Wellcome Trust

You’re looking at the root cause of heart disease.

The orange clumps are calcium salts building up on the aortic heart valve. Over time, these deposits harden and prevent heart valves from working properly.

The orange color signifies denser, calcified material, while the structures that appear in green are less dense. 

Photo Credits: Kevin MacKenzie/Wellcome Trust

When scientists work with rare, precious archaeological samples, they do everything they can to keep the specimens intact. That makes it difficult to really dig deep, and study artifacts from the inside out.

As a workaround, scientists scanned this medieval jawbone using micro-computed tomography (micro-CT) to create a digital model. The high-tech scan allowed scientists to extract each tooth (purple) virtually, and study the jawbone’s features without damaging it. 

Photo Credits: Ashley Prytherch/Wellcome Trust

It's enough to make your skin crawl: a deer tick burrowing into an unlucky photographer’s leg.

Ticks feed on the blood of animals, and can easily pass infections on to the victim of their next meal. Deer ticks are notorious for passing on Lyme disease, and the disease is more prevalent than we previously thought.

Photo Credits: Zeynep M. Saygin/Wellcome Trust

This is a bird’s-eye view of nerve fibers in a healthy adult human brain. The image shows the pathways the brain cells use to communicate.

This image was captured using diffusion-weighted imaging, a specialized type of MRI scan. The scan detects the movement of water to reconstruct the orientation of nerve fibers.

Fibers traveling from the top of the head to the neck are colored blue, and fibers traveling from the forehead to the back of the head are colored green. Fibers traveling left and right are colored red.

These connective patterns help scientists better understand brain function, and how it changes as the brain develops or as it becomes diseased.

Photo Credits: Stefan Eberhard/Wellcome Trust

This is where it all begins for the thale cress flower. This scanning electron micrograph image shows the male and female reproductive organs in false color. The female part of the flower, the pistil (fuzzy blue structure atop the olive stalk), contains the eggs. The male parts, the stamens, hold pollen in their spherical anthers (green). As you can see, some of the green spheres are slightly open, revealing the pollen grains ready for dispersal. 

The thale cress, Arabidopsis thaliana, was the first plant to have its entire genome sequenced and is popular in biology research. 

Photo Credits: Khuloud T Al-Jamal and Izzat Suffian/Wellcome Trust

A scanning electron micrograph brings you to the front lines in the battle against breast cancer.

The cluster of breast cancer cells, colored blue, has been treated with the anticancer drug doxorubicin. The purple cells you see are cancer cells that have committed suicide.

Doxorubicin is administered by way of nanometer-sized carrier particles. It tricks the cells into ending their lives in a controlled way, thereby reducing the size of the tumor.

This cluster is about 250 micrometers in diameter, or about the size of a dust mite. 

Photo Credits: Spike Walker

It may look like a glass sculpture, but this is actually a miniature organism that belongs to a group called Foraminifera. This single-celled individual was plucked from the South China Sea.

When this 1.4-milimeter-long creature dies, its outer calcium-based shell eventually turns into rock, such as chalk or limestone.

The odd corkscrew neck is actually a twisted thread it uses to capture its prey. The cross in the middle is an illusion caused by the polarized light imaging technique. 

Photo Credits: Spike Walker/Wellcome Trust

Vitamin C is a critical nutrient in our diets, serving as an antioxidant and bolstering the immune system. Without this essential vitamin, cartilage, bone and blood vessels start to break down and we develop a rare disease called scurvy.

This is a light micrograph of vitamin C crystals. The crystals are colorless, and were imaged using polarized light microscopy to enhance the contrast and color of the image, which is eight millimeters wide. 

Photo Credits: Annie Cavanagh and David McCarthy/Wellcome Trust

This little guy is a four-day-old zebrafish embryo, measuring about one centimeter in length.

The zebrafish is a tropical, freshwater fish that comes from Asia. The creature is often used to study developmental biology and neurodegeneration — the deterioration of nerve cells — in vertebrates. Last year, researchers used calcium ions to record the neurons firing in a zebrafish embryo.

This false-color photo is actually three scanning electron micrographs digitally stitched together. 

Photo Credits: Eberhardt Josué Friedrich Kernahan and Enrique Rodríguez Cañas/Wellcome Trust

Solar power generation has increased tremendously in recent years, thanks to materials like the one pictured here.

This is a scanning electron micrograph of a crystal of copper indium gallium diselenide, which is a semiconductor used to make solar panels. 

Photo Credits: Chris Thorn/Wellcome Trust

A domestic cat hunted and killed this brown long-eared bat. This species of bat is common throughout Europe and the United Kingdom, and they fly at low altitudes at night to hunt for insects. Brown long-eared bats sleep during the day in roosts, and hibernate from about October to March or April.

This is an X-ray projection of the deceased bat, which is around 5 centimeters long. 

Photo Credits: Spike Walker/Wellcome Trust

If you take a cross-section of a lily’s flower bud, you get a beautiful result.

At the center of the image is the pistil, or the female parts. Six male anthers (white) containing four pollen sacks (red circles) surround the pistil.

Around the outside of the bud are three petals (small, circular in shape) and three sepals (large, triangular in shape).

This is a 10-millimeter-wide light micrograph with the individual parts stained. 

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