CLEMSON — The awe-inspiring ability of light to capture the beauty and significance of the microscopic world was displayed this week during the Clemson Light Imaging Facility’s Microscopy Symposium, “Exploring the Magnificent Microcosm.”

Microscopy competition

Terri Bruce, the manager of the Clemson University Light Imaging Facility, explains some of the information in a micrograph that was competing in the “HOOKEd on Microscopy” competition.

Held in the new Life Sciences Facility, the event featured guest speakers, equipment demonstrations and tours.  A highlight of the symposium was the “HOOKEd on Microscopy” micrograph competition, where guests were encouraged to vote on a collection of 15 gallery-worthy digital images taken by light microscopes and submitted by students and researchers from across the country.

 The concept of super-resolution light microscopy was placed front and center in the public eye earlier this year when three scientists — two Americans and a German —were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the development of super-resolved fluorescent microscopy.

The Light Imaging Facility houses a collection of 11 light microscopes in an area of the building that was constructed on a “floating slab” to eliminate vibrations, and the images these powerful tools produce are astounding in their variety and beauty. The pieces in the “HOOKEd on Microscopy” competition evoked Jackson Pollock, Picasso and even Ansel Adams. A casual observer would never know they were looking at miniscule screen shots of caffeine crystals, muscle fibers and yeast cells.

Winner of HOOKEd on Microscopy contest

Kryssia Diaz, a fourth-year graduate student in chemical engineering, views some of the photographs entered into the “HOOKEd on Microscopy” competition in the Clemson Life Sciences Building. Her photo, “Extended Polymer Worm Family,” won first place later that day.

The use of light microscopy goes far beyond taking a pretty picture, said Terri Bruce, who manages the facility. Advances in light imaging systems are now enabling scientists to capture as much or more information in a single picture than in a series of molecular biology experiments.

“Surprisingly, just taking the photo is not that hard,” she said. “To interpret what it means is much more difficult. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then it’s worth a million points of data.”

“Light can tell you so much about something,” she explained, pointing to one of the more colorful photographs in the exhibit, of benzoic acid crystals. “Within just this image there’s a ton of information about the chemical composition, about how it forms crystals, how the molecules slip past one another… we want to give people an understanding of the realm of possibilities these microscopes present.“

This inaugural symposium was a great success, she said. “We had a full lecture room for all the talks, so to me that’s the most you can hope for on the first go, and the competition turned out really great. People got really excited about it.”

Winner of HOOKed on Microscopy micrograph contest

First Place – This micrograph, “Extended Polymer Worm Family,” by Clemson graduate student Kryssia Diaz, was the winner of the first “HOOKed on Microscopy” contest held at the Clemson Light Imaging Facility.

The winning photograph this year was “Extended Polymer Worm Family,” which shows a row of polymer microtubes clustered together like a small forest of charred tree trunks, by Kryssia Diaz, a graduate student in Mark Roberts’ lab in Chemical Engineering. The photo just happened to be the only semi-finalist that was taken using a microscope in the Clemson Light Imaging Facility, which was not a requirement for the contest.