Scientific images are manipulated – of course

We were recently interviewed by the local academic bulletin Universitetsavisa, you can read the interview on their web pages. It seems every journalist we talk to is eager to communicate that scientific images are manipulated, as if this automatically indicates trickey. However, manipulation is a necessity in much scientific imaging, as both scholars within the field of STS and those producing the images know very well. On the web pages of the Wellcome Image Awards you can watch videos that explain the techniques involved in various procedures for making images, which are nothing like a photographic snap shot.

The image below was created by Jean Livet and his research team at Harvard University around 2007, using fluorescent markers (extracted from deep sea jelly fish) to track the individual neuronal and their connections in a mouse brain. If slightly reminiscent of Jackson Pollock’s action paintings this is indeed because the visual output is not so much a representation, as a mark of an event.

Brainbow mouse Jean Livet
As the Wellcome Collection explains: “Modern biologists are able to make living cells fluoresce by altering them with genes taken from coral and jellyfish. However, even after marking them in this manner, visually disentangling individual neurons from their neighbours remains difficult. In 2007, a team at Harvard University made a breakthrough by developing the ‘Brainbow’ mouse. Their technique enabled whole arrays of similar neurons to be discriminated from one another because each one expresses different combinations of a palette of coloured proteins. Photographs are then digitally re-coloured to enhance the contrast between cells and reveal spectacular maps of the complex interconnections within the nervous system.”

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