Tom Parton has one first prize in the Science in Innovation Unit (SIU) art in Science Oxford photo competition. Well done Tom!
Legend: The intense colours seen in this micrograph are created by cellulose nanocrystals, tiny slivers of carbohydrate extracted from cotton. Each individual nanocrystal is only 200 nanometres long; too small to be seen by eye, even under an optical microscope. However, under the right conditions these nanocrystals pack together into micron-scale screw-shaped structures which only reflect certain colours – in scientific terms, the colour reflected has a wavelength corresponding to the pitch (periodicity) of the screw. The image was taken on an inverted optical microscope in reflection mode with crossed polarisers.
Tom: In my research I study ways to use cellulose as a more sustainable source of colorants, instead of the dyes and plastics we currently use. The “tendrils” seen in the image are created when the cellulose crystals try to assemble around micelles (clusters of molecules called surfactants, which are the main component of soaps and detergents). I’m using these surfactants to move the cellulose crystals around and control their colour. This image is something of a failure, in scientific terms – I didn’t achieve very uniform colour – but I think it looks very beautiful nonetheless!