The submission period is now closed and the jury is hard at work selecting this edition’s 20 finalists. Stay posted for public voting and support your favorite image!
2019 Winners and Finalists
La reazione nera (The black reaction)
In 1873, Camillo Golgi published his discovery of the “black reaction” (reazione nera), a stain that would allow him and other early neuroscientists to understand the structural organization of the nervous system. Nearly 150 years later, it remains unclear why some neurons are beautifully stained by the black reaction while others are left without a trace. Yet, it is because of this selective staining that neuroscientists can visualize and trace, in precise detail, the structure of individual neurons. This image is of a post-mortem human brain section stained by the black reaction. Our research uses this method to study the structure of prefrontal pyramidal neurons in the brains of individuals who died by suicide.
Laminar healthy vortices and leaking heart valves
The blood flow in the left ventricle—the heart’s powerhouse—is depicted in a healthy heart (left) and in a leaking heart valve (right). The right side of the image represents a disease known as aortic regurgitation. When a healthy left ventricle fills, a single laminar vortex swirls elegantly and directs blood for ejection. However, with aortic regurgitation, the leak disrupts the flow by impeding the formation of this vortex as well as generating turbulent activity within the ventricle. These effects reduce the overall pumping efficiency of the left ventricle, placing an additional burden on the heart to pump blood. This research aims to use the flow in the left ventricle to better understand aortic regurgitation and to better evaluate its progression in practice.
The hitchhiker’s guide to infection
This image shows a predatory mite bearing spores of entomopathogenic fungi on its body. It had been half an hour since the mite was released from its rearing substrate that was artificially contaminated with spores (bottom of the image), and the side of her body was already clean. She spent half of this time grooming; however, grooming was insufficient for her to dislodge the spores on her back. Surprisingly, walking was enough—a rolling stone gathers no moss. In my PhD project, we were looking for dispersal agents to spread disease rapidly in a population of western flower thrips (a farmer’s biggest nightmare). We found that certain species of predatory mites—depending on their foraging activities—can increase the rate of infection of thrips by delivering spores to their colonies. This combination of predation and infection offers an efficient alternative to pesticides for reducing pest populations rapidly.
A colourful lightning
The nerves and vasculature run alongside each other in this image showing the neurovascular network in a mouse’s skin. Neurons (red) guide not only their axon formation, but also blood vessels (green) into an organized network as new vasculature forms from the existing vessels in both development and adults. The signals shared by neurons and vessels can help us design targeted therapies against illnesses such as cancer, and engineer new organs that are structurally and functionally relevant.
A winter night in Quebec
Ice build-up on the aerodynamic surfaces of aircraft is a major threat to safe flight that aerospace companies face every winter. A potential solution is a slippery surface that can delay ice build-up and help remove it. Using suspension plasma spraying of titanium dioxide feedstock particles smaller than a micron, we have developed a porous microstructure that consists of pillars 200 microns in height. These surfaces can be impregnated with various lubricating oils, and the micro-pores can act as reservoirs. The resulting solid/oil interface is exceptionally slippery, which allows water droplets to slide on the surface with minimal loss of energy. This image shows the hierarchical structure of this surface: a base coating layer and the micro pillars after impregnation with oil. The oil is visible on the surface as large rivulets and smaller half-rings (c-shapes).
Enjoying the calm before the storm
A pair of small yellow-banded acraea (Acraea acerata) enjoy a moment of solitude in Ikeja, Lagos, Nigeria. These butterflies are thought to be sensitive to both excessive and limited rainfall, so the increased variability in precipitation resulting from recent climate change could have dramatic impacts on this species. This picture was uploaded to iNaturalist.org, where it joins a global database of over 15 million observations of almost 200,000 different species. These observations were submitted by over 400,000 naturalists, mainly amateurs. Submitting an observation is as simple as taking a picture on your smartphone. Citizen science like this has generated incredible amounts of data and changed the way ecology and global change research is done. Researchers at the University of Ottawa use these observations to predict how species and individuals like these A. acerata will respond to global climate changes.
Every parasite needs a host
As our understanding of dinoflagellates—common kinds of phytoplankton—broadens, they continue to defy many of the rules we typically associate with protists, simple organisms that are neither plants, animals nor fungi. For this reason, they are consistently interesting and help us learn more about the evolution, in all its forms, of eukaryotes (life forms with complex cells). Pictured here is haplozoon axiothellae, a dinoflagellate that is a parasite of certain marine worms. This organism is an example of how odd dinoflagellates can be, with a compartmentalized body that is unique even among the protists we know of. We continue to study this protist and others like it with high-resolution microscopes to learn more about their cellular organization and put them in the greater context of eukaryota.
Everything is deeply intertwingled
A scanning electron microscope was used to pinpoint the phenotype of one of the most primordial and conserved proteins in the extracellular matrix, called SPARC, in larval tissue of fruit flies Drosophila melanogaster, magnified to 40 microns. The colouring highlights the fibrous laminin network that is characteristic of SPARC overexpression and collagen-IV deficiency in the basement membrane. The notion of intertwingularity—the idea that all knowledge, regardless of the field or subject matter, is deeply and intrinsically interconnected—is exemplified by this evolutionarily treasured protein, and the role it plays in almost all life forms on Earth.
Participants: Amundsen Science
During my first Arctic field season, I encountered bears in every corner of Canada's Arctic. From the bear that used my mooring buoys as chew toys on Baffin Island, to the mother and cub swimming 100 miles offshore in the ice-free Labrador Sea, to this family of three in the Hudson Strait—these bears have my attention. With the rapid loss of habitat, I wonder how many cubs will survive to the next season. Let's do what we can to maintain the longevity of such beautiful creatures.
Feather star metropolis
Feather stars (relatives of sea stars and urchins) are home to a multitude of tiny marine invertebrates and fish (dubbed “infestors”) like this clingfish, shyly smiling back at us through the arms of Anneissia bennetti (a common feather star in the Philippines). This vibrant metropolis poses no direct threat to its feather star host, but hungry predators who feast on infestors can cause collateral damage to their star home, leaving a temporary footprint (an injury) on the feather star: like the two amputated arms pictured in the foreground (immediately below the clingfish). Changes in these intimate relationships as we go deeper below the ocean surface, from shallow (surface to 30 metres) to mesophotic (30 to 120 metres) depths, paint an interesting portrait of how marine communities can support each other in times of stress.
In the eye of the beholder
These two male savannah sparrows are the same age and were captured in the same location—from a long-term study population on a small island in the Bay of Fundy. Nevertheless, one sparrow has a striking yellow eyebrow, and the other is much duller. Such visual traits in birds are important in females’ choice of mate and males’ territorial interactions, and may be influenced by a variety of factors including health, genetic quality, diet, climate and pollution. Researchers at the Universities of Windsor and Guelph are using field studies of wild birds, combined with spectrometry to measure colour, genetic analyses to quantify reproductive success, and isotope analyses and GPS tracking to monitor seasonal movements. These data will reveal how health, climate and overwintering location influence trait variation in males and females, and the consequences of this variation on breeding success and survival.
Neural constellations—connecting the dots
Participant: McGill University
This image shows mouse neurons from two brain regions, the cortex and the striatum, grown together in a dish (cell co-culture) and dyed fluorescent colours. I study Parkinson’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder resulting from changes in the basal ganglia circuitry, in which the striatum is a key player, receiving motor input from the cortex. This co-culture allows us to study the connections (synapses) between cortical and striatal neurons. I compare co-cultures from healthy (control) mice with those carrying a mutation in the LRRK2 gene, a common risk factor for Parkinson’s disease. The mutation alters the LRRK2 protein, which plays a crucial—but poorly understood—role in synapses. By studying how the altered protein affects synapse formation, strength and plasticity, we can elucidate the early changes in basal ganglia circuitry that lead to Parkinson’s disease, and figure out how to target LRRK2 to treat the disease.
Patient brain cells made from urine
This image depicts a cluster of the neurons (brain cells) that make up a large part of the human brain. Following the discovery that stem cells can be made from various other cell types in the body, researchers were able to reprogram these stem cells into other cell types of interest. My research aims to understand a rare neurodevelopmental disorder called FOXG1 syndrome. After extracting renal epithelial cells from urine, collected from a young child afflicted with the disorder, I was able to reprogram these cells into stem cells and then into mature neurons. I grew these neurons in a dish for 30 days, then preserved and stained them with forebrain fluorescent markers, MAP2 and TUJ1. By growing these neurons from a human patient, we are able to get firsthand insight into the pathology of these brain cells.
Phases of the heart
Time series measuring biological and natural processes often exhibit a multi-scale periodic structure that is invisible to the human eye. The Fourier transform is a mathematical device that decomposes a time series into a sum of elementary oscillations. The short-time Fourier transform describes how these decompositions change in a matrix, with time and frequency as axes, called a time-frequency representation. By transforming the complex entries of the time-frequency representation, one can obtain numbers serving as intensity or colour values for an image. Such images are widely used for visual signal analysis. This image was derived from an electrocardiogram of atrial fibrillation. The horizontal axis is time, and the vertical axis is frequency. The intensity values are a blend of the modulus and phase values.
This image shows an area 64 microns × 42 microns. It represents a fibre network made of a “smart polymer” called PVDF, which is commonly used for food packaging as well as for brain activity sensors. Each fibre is connected to a bead within the whole structure. If this material is electrically stressed, a mechanical strain can be observed and vice versa.
Shining pearls in a blue moonlight
This image shows large droplets of oil dispersed in water and, within the oil droplets, tiny droplets of water. A system of stabilized oil droplets in water is called an emulsion; in this case, it is a double emulsion. Surfactants are used to form emulsions, but they can be toxic and unstable at high temperatures. Solid-stabilized emulsions can overcome these limitations. They involve solid particles, instead of surfactants, that stabilize droplets of one liquid in a second liquid. Such double emulsions, in which you have a droplet within a droplet, can be used in food and pharmaceutical products. They protect sensitive compounds and induce their triggered release. These double droplets are formed in a one-step process with only one type of solid particles. This image is one of a series taken to confirm the formation of multiple droplets as well as to better understand the mechanism involving in the formation.
The genetic landscape of the UK Biobank
Each of these 488,377 dots represents one person’s data from the UK Biobank. The placement of a dot is determined mathematically from genotype data, with those genetically closer to each other placed closer together in a diverse global continuum. Each dot is coloured based on the individual’s self-identified ethnic background. This image helps reveal patterns in populations, hinting at relationships between genetics, geography and the histories of human migrations.
The landscape of cancer
A cancer tumour contains many different types of non-cancerous cells, such as immune cells. These make up the tumour’s microenvironment, which can affect the growth and progression of cancer cells. As shown here, growing cancer cells (yellow and magenta) are surrounded by immune cells (blue) and connective tissue (green). Characterizing the landscape of a tumour can help us find targeted therapies to treat cancer.
The microscopic cosmos
Under the microscope, this wafer-thin piece of fossilized bone from a sabre-toothed cat looks like an extraterrestrial world, with the resin the bone is embedded in resembling a starry sky. By looking at the remains of long-dead animals at such a fine scale, researchers can begin to solve otherwise unanswerable questions about extinct species, such as how long they typically lived and how quickly they reached adulthood. Here, researchers are making comparisons between the sabre-toothed cat Smilodon and some of its closest living relatives, such as the lion and tiger, to try and answer some long-standing questions: Did Smilodon live in prides, just like the lion? Why did the fearsome Ice-Age predator go extinct?
Turbulence—as shown here at the base of a traditional pool-and-weir fishway—creates flow conditions that pose a challenge for migrating fish species like alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus pictured here). Fishways are constructed to allow fish to move around dams, but assessing their effectiveness is critical to evaluating their value in conservation.
Only one form can be submitted per person per email for the duration of the contest. You must submit your form by September 15, 2019, at 11:59 p.m. (HDT). To submit a form, you must live in Canada and be at or over the legal age of majority in your home province or territory.