A guest blog from Dr Wei-Feng Xue, winner of last year’s photography competition “What inspired you to be a biologist?”. Wei-Feng is a Lecturer in Chemical Biology at the University of Kent and uses his flikr photostream to communicate photography.
People often ask me, as a child what did I want to do when I grew up. “Have you always wanted to be a bio-scientist?” they ask. Perhaps it surprises some when my answer is “no”!
As much as I wanted to become a scientist, I was also equally excited about becoming a visual artist or a designer. I spent a lot of time on painting, crafting, drawing, photographing and designing, but science eventually won the career path “tug-of-war”. In a blink of an eye it feels, I had my degree in science, completed a postdoc in a biosciences lab, and more recently started an academic position in a biosciences department.
That’s it then, one might think, no more time for all of those artistic endeavours. It couldn’t be further from the truth! My early pursuits in visual arts not only made a dedicated photographer out of me, they also shaped a big part of my thinking as a bio-scientist. In the same way that I enjoy macro-photography for exploring the beauty of the biological world around us, I also like to employ various forms of microscopy to examine the equally striking biological structures of the nano-scale world and to collect scientifically informative yet visually stunning micrograph images. I firmly believe that the arts and science are highly connected entities. This connection between art and science, to me, represents a potent resource that we should explore, since it helps us to observe, appreciate and understand the beauty of many facets of biology, be it in the form of molecules, cells, animals, plants, or whole ecosystems.
I had the honour last year of receiving the Society of Biology Photographer of the Year award, after submitting a photograph of patterned tree roots (image, directly above). To me, that photo reflected the complex interaction between biology and human society. I have also recently been awarded a grant from the BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council) for a project that will use an imaging approach to address an important biological problem. Specifically, the project will use electron microscopy and atomic force microscopy to characterise the breakage patterns of so-called amyloid fibrils (image, top right), these being protein structures associated with several devastating human diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Creutzfeldt-Jakob (CJD) and Parkinson’s disease. Both of the above awards mean a great deal to me as a bio-scientist, and they inspire me to continue growing creatively, scientifically and artistically.
Thinking about where I am in my career today, I realise that it all started with my fascination for science, biology and the arts, and this in turn makes me reflect upon the powerful connection therein that has profoundly influenced me as a photographer and as a scientist. This year, the title of the Society of Biology photography competition is “How Biology Can Save the World”. By exploring the bond between art and science, I think there are few approaches that would be better than an artists’, to highlight important questions in biology, science and society. I can’t wait to see all of the wonderful stories within this theme, told through the unique perspective of the photographer’s lens.
Entries to our 2012 amateur photography competition, “How Biology Can Save the World” are open until 31st July 2012 – full details here.