PNNL calendar makes science into art

By Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldDecember 31, 2013 

Looking at the images in Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's 2014 calendar is a bit like a Rorschach test, except instead of ink blots, the objects represent discovery.

A synthesized mineral called spinel looks like it was taken from Superman's Fortress of Solitude. Yellow and orange carbon dioxide reactions of dypingite and forsterite resemble radioactive sponges. Technetium, a contaminant that poses a radioactive risk, looks like spaghetti spilled on the kitchen floor.

The calendar, which features a variety of research conducted at the Richland campus, is called "Science as Art" and is available for free download online at publications/calendars.

It features images that contrast bright colors and black and white, taken from research on topics ranging from carbon dioxide reactions at low temperatures to the study of residue left over from the 1945 Trinity test, the world's first detonation of a nuclear device using plutonium from Hanford's historic B Reactor (the image of which resembles cheese that's starting to melt).

PNNL has made the calendar for four years. They made a print version last year, but are offering only a digital version for 2014, said spokesman Greg Koller.

"Rather than just offering it (for) our staff, we offer it externally," he said.

Staff members at the complex submit the images. The calendar includes descriptions of the work related to the image, as well as the federal agency that pays for the research.

John LaFemina, PNNL's director for institutional strategy, and Steven Ashby, deputy director for science and technology, narrowed down the 86 images that were submitted for the calendar, said spokeswoman Mary Beckman.

September's photo features a cluster of hundreds of intestinal cells that microbiologist Janine Hutchison helped create. The group of cells is about the width of a human hair, and was stained green, red and blue to make the different parts more identifiable. Researchers viewed the cells using a high-powered confocal microscope, and Hutchison said the image was blown up around 10,000 times.

The human intestinal cells better resemble actual tissue and provide a more relevant model than using animals, Hutchison said.

"We're really trying to move away from an animal model," she said. "So that you don't have to use animals for all the studies and it's more realistic. You're not comparing animals to humans."

Hutchison, who works in PNNL's Life Sciences Laboratory, saw positive reaction to the 2013 calendar, which was available in a wall format. She saw one displayed at Delta High School, where she works with students.

"I told them, 'Did you know Dr. October is in the room?' " she said. "It's kind of neat for them to see it's not just an image on the wall. There's real science in what we do. ... People are just excited to see science."

The image for December 2014 shows zinc oxide research, with green and purple patterns that kind of look like a poinsettia if you concentrate.

Alice Dohnalkova was part of teams to have their research pictured in two 2014 calendar photos, April ("getting to the root of rhizosphere challenges") and July ("understanding biofilm roles in reactions and processes").

The April photo features spherical structures that were colored purple and orange, and showing what happens when micron-sized spores of a ubiquitous fungus, Penicillium, mingle with roots, biofilms and soil minerals in the rhizosphere, or plant root zone.

The July photo shows cells within biofilm, taken from a study on the effect of groups of microorganisms that form on surfaces.

Dohnalkova said the calendar shows the beauty within the work that scientists do.

"I think we should take the time from our busy schedules and just enjoy the moment," she said.

Hutchison said the calendar lets the public know more about what happens at PNNL.

"The diversity of the people, the diversity of the projects and being able to work on challenging questions every day," she said.

w Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543;; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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