Truely amazing stuff! For those of you scratching your heads wondering what the hell you’re looking at, it’s a mouse embryo, 12 days after conception, imaged using a technique called Optical Projection Topography (OPT). Long story short, to gain 3D projections of objects such as mouse embryos, one could either slice up the object and take an image of each slice, and then reassemble it (like one of those grey 3D puzzles you may have been bought for Christmas), or you’d essentially do the same thing without literally slicing it up, but instead use light focused at different planes through an object; a technique called confocal microscopy. Both methods are a bit time consuming even for objects smaller than a whole mouse embryo, which is roughly the size of a M&M. I don’t know much about OPT (have a read through >this< if you’re interested), but it’s certainly a powerful technique to enable the microscope imaging of a relatively large object such as a 12-day old mouse embryo with such detail.
Clearly the images obtained of this embryo are scientifically fascinating, and I’m sure many discoveries are being made using these images and others gained using similar methods. Even removing it from it’s scientific context, this is visually stunning – though your Gran might not have it on her mantlepiece, and it might make a bit of a dull screensaver. Seeing this image got me thinking about how much of science, in papers, posters and presentations, is related in images and movies. But is it ever the case that ‘pretty pictures’ sometimes distract attention away from ‘real data’? Where is the line between a great scientific image for a ‘purpose’ and a great image just for it’s own sake? And is the latter appropriate in a scientific report/presentation, beyond Image Awards and Photography Competitions?