What do snowy owls, insect specimens, and Amazonian forests have in common? They are the subjects of the winning photos for the 2015 Faces of Biology Photo Contest.
The photo contest, which is sponsored by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), is an opportunity for members of the scientific community to showcase the varied forms that biological research takes. The photographs will be used to help the public and policymakers better understand the nature and importance of biological research and education.
“We are increasingly talking of STEAM, not just STEM. There is a growing appreciation for the value of incorporating the arts into how we do, teach, and communicate science,” said Robert Gropp, interim co-executive director of AIBS. “I am so pleased that for the past five years, AIBS has been recognizing outstanding photographers who have the ability to help us communicate about how research is done.”
Submissions must depict a person engaging in biological research or education. Entries are judged on how well they fit the theme of the contest; creativity; and composition, clarity, and technical quality.
Professional photographer Florencia Mazza Ramsay has spent years photographing fashion models, but recently, she became interested in science as a subject for her photos. Last year, Mazza Ramsay spent three months in Alaska documenting Arctic research, local culture, and the impacts of climate change. Her photograph of owl researcher Denver Holt won first place in the contest and appears on the cover of this issue of BioScience. Holt was documenting a nest of 2-day-old snowy owlets. At each nest, he noted the condition of the owlets and the types of captured prey—in this photo, a rodent and a partially eaten bird are visible. As Mazza Ramsay pointed out, clearly, “their parents were doing a good job at keeping food at the nest.”
Mazza Ramsay offers the following advice to scientists who want to share their research with the public through photography: “Bringing a photographer to document your work in the field might seem like a crazy idea, but I think it's 100 percent worth it. I know nowadays everybody can carry a GoPro or even a DSLR [digital single-lens reflex camera] with them, but it's not the same as having someone 100 percent into observing while you just worry about the science.”
Isa Betancourt, a curatorial assistant of entomology at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, won second place. Her photo depicts her coworker Stephen Mason preparing moth and butterfly specimens for inclusion in the academy's entomology collection. The insects’ wings are spread and meticulously set to dry before the specimens can be added to the collection.
Tyeen Taylor, a PhD candidate at the University of Arizona, won third place for his photo documenting the installation of a light sensor on a tree branch by PhD student Marielle Smith. The light sensors detect the amount of light that infiltrates the tree canopy. This information is linked with other measurements of forest structure and function at a research site in the Amazon, which together help researchers understand how forests respond to climatic changes.
All three winners received a one-year membership in AIBS, including a subscription to BioScience. Mazza Ramsay also received $250.
The 2016 Faces of Biology Photo Contest will launch in April 2016. Learn more at www.aibs.org/public-programs/photocontest.html.