The photo is microscopically beautiful. What would appear to be a multi-colored tail of a male peacock is actually – under the lens of a microscope – an image of a fibroblast, a cell that is part of the body’s tissues, such as tendons, ligaments and bones.
This image that carries vivid shades of green and blue with red flashes captured the first position in the category “Microscopic Photography” of the Scientific Photography Contest FotoCiencia 2021, of the National Secretariat of Science, Technology and Innovation (Senacyt), a initiative that this year celebrated its fourth edition with the objective that professional or amateur Panamanian photographers capture their view of science in a snapshot.
Thus, Isaac Vargas obtained that award with the photograph “The amazing cellular network – healthy” at the award ceremony that took place last Thursday, December 16, 2021.
Vargas, who is a biomedical engineer, has a master’s degree in this discipline with a specialty in biomedical imaging and microscopy, both studies completed at the University of Arkansas (being a Senacyt fellow for his undergraduate degree). “I am not a photographer as such, but you could say that I am a photographer of the microscopic world. I also find inspiration from the same because it is something that we cannot see with the naked eye, but it holds many secrets ”, he affirms.
The engineer today works as Configuration Officer and Planner in the Sales Operations department at Philips GBS, manages the configuration of multiple modality medical equipment (monitoring, computed tomography, cardiology and imaging software, among others) for the entire Latin American sector.
Vargas’ winning photograph was recreated using an OLYMPUS FV10i laser scanning confocal microscope (Magnification: 60x – Scale: 1400 pixels = 50μm). It is capable of exciting and capturing the light of fluorescent particles that are previously added to cells by chemical treatments. The photo is made up of multiple layers that together allow us to observe incredible details of the cellular organization.
This image shows a healthy cytoskeleton that provides shape and anchorage to the cell. These are essential, explains Vargas, since they allow organelles such as the mitochondria to move throughout the cell producing energy, which in turn is essential in the division of the cell nucleus (mitosis). In addition to playing an important role in wound healing, fibroblasts are responsible for synthesizing the extracellular matrix that gives rise to the connective tissue of multiple organs. Because of this, a healthy cellular network is imperative for the functioning of the entire organism, he stresses.
“My main motivation has always been the same since I started my steps in science: to contribute my grain of sand to the scientific field, and at the same time educate those who do not know or are interested in research”, says Vargas, one of the 12 winners of the contest that this year received a total of 500 images to compete.
With his image, Vargas tries to show that “there is beauty, even in tiny places, and at the same time make known this technique of capturing images that is not yet used regularly in our country.”
This is the first time he has participated in FotoCiencia. “Getting first place is a privilege that I certainly did not expect. I am extremely grateful to Senacyt for allowing me to be a representative of the wonderful science and technology initiatives taking place today. Finally, it is another achievement in my career as a scientist, which I know I will take with me everywhere ”, he reflects.
For his part, Alex Wtges Barrera obtained second place in this section with the image “Pixels, minimum unit of color”, while Julio L. Delgado was in third position with the photo “Oasis Gamma, a better future”.
The medical technologist Mabel Martínez, a specialist in biomedical sciences and a master’s degree in health services management, won the first position of FotoCiencia in the category “Scientific research” with the image “Women ready to fight”.
Martínez, who is the head of the Immunovirology section of the Central Laboratory of Reference in Public Health of the Gorgas Memorial Institute for Health Studies (Icges), affirms that her main motivation for recreating the winning photo was to “make known and leave evidence of the work carried out by many Panamanian scientists, tireless women with an inexhaustible multitasking capacity and innate fighters, work that has been evidenced through the work that has been carried out since we are facing the international health emergency due to covid-19 ”.
This image, in which a scientist is seen, was recreated in the Immunovirology laboratory with two pipettes, tools of her daily work. “The main message that I intend to send with my photo is that we are brave scientists, passionate about science, that we forget fear and that we are ready to fight at all times,” says Martínez, who is not a photographer, but who, like many, he enjoys capturing moments through photography, this being a way of “showing the world the love we feel for science”.
It is the first time that Martínez participates in FotoCiencia. For her, obtaining this award represents that teamwork generates better results. “At first glance, we see a photo, but behind it is the work of the hands, hearts and minds of the members of the Icges Immunovirology team.”
The photography “Drops of life”, by Joseph Araúz; and John Zamora’s “Chemiluminescence in Action” snapshot, ranked second and third in the same category.
‘Science in the daily life of children and youth’
Criminal investigations graduate Balbino Macías, who is currently a forensic expert, is an amateur photographer who obtained the first position in the category “Science in the daily life of children and youth” of FotoCiencia 2021 with the photograph “Nature grows” .
This amateur photographer comments on The Panama Star that the triggers that motivated him to make the image were “the desire to compete, and the interest in showing the work that my sister Anais had been doing with just being a girl and seeing her passion for science reflected in a photo”.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, her sister had started growing seedlings, studying how they were growing day after day. “It is impressive how the curiosity of this girl led her to create her own nursery, an initiative that she does not plan to put on hold, since she dreams of contributing a green Panama,” she says.
Macías had had the opportunity to participate in other photography competitions, but it is the first time that he has won an award, and he is pleased to have achieved it with a snapshot in which his sister is the protagonist.
On the other hand, the images “Mom, why does it rain?”, By Litzi Chiru G., and “Caring for plants: a way of loving botany”, by Yazmín Cornejo, obtained second and third place in the same category.
‘Environment and climate change’
The university student Cristian Sanjur, a 19-year-old young man who is studying a degree in automated drawing at the Technological University of Panama, is the author of the image “The awakening in La Yeguada”, a photograph that won the first position in the category “Environment and climate change” from FotoCiencia 2021.
The photograph was taken from La Yeguada, a site that he describes as “relaxing.” Sanjur affirms that he was motivated to compete with this image because it could cause a great artistic, cultural and tourist impact. “I did it with one of my first cameras, a Canon T5, with the 24mm lens, totally lying on my back with my camera to make it as striking as possible. The message that I try to send with her is that we must take care of each of these beautiful places in our country so that they continue to be the most fabulous possible. “
Since he was 16 years old, Sanjur has been dedicated to the photography of portraits, landscapes and images of a gastronomic nature, and this is the first time that he has participated in FotoCiencia.
Winning this award represents “a lot” for him, since since he started taking photos he always dreamed of “seeing one of my photographs as the winner of a contest, or being the cover of a magazine.” Obtaining this recognition also symbolizes for him that “the difficulties that arise in life do not matter, but we must continue fighting to do what we like and fill our soul,” he reflects.
In the “Environment and Climate Change” category, the second place winner was Marco F. Chen with “Scars”, while the third position was obtained by Luis Zamora V. with “Caribbean Diversity”.
At the award ceremony of the FotoCiencia 2021 National Scientific Photography Contest, Dr. Eduardo Ortega-Barría, Senacyt’s national secretary, commented that photography as an artistic expression has the power to communicate, evoke feelings, tell stories and inspire. In this sense, “through FotoCiencia Senacyt seeks to bring scientific knowledge closer to the population. Congratulations to this year’s winners ”.
Soon, the Senacyt will have available a virtual gallery of “FotoCiencia” with free access, from which those interested will be able to download the photos of the participants of the various editions of the contest.