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Brilliant things happen when science and photography collide

From the intricate lace-like structure of a telescope to a shiny, closeup of an ebony stag beetle, there are moments when photography shatters the mystery of science.

Aware of that intriguing connection, the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) launched the Science Photographer of the Year competition where images must “show science being done, show how photography helps science or how science impacts upon our daily lives.”

For example, the image above by Viktor Sykora was created using light microscopy. It’s a stag beetle magnified five times. It’s one of the competition’s shortlisted entries that will be exhibited at the Science Museum in London from Oct. 7 through Jan. 5, 2020.

“Science has always been integral to photography and photography remains essential to science as a tool for research and for communicating it to the public,” says RPS Science Exhibition Coordinator Gary Evans. “The RPS is delighted to be exhibiting at the Science Museum, where we are sure the images will engage, entertain and educate in equal measure.”

Here’s a look at some of the other captivating shortlisted entries with descriptions provided by the photographers.

‘Lovell Telescope’

Lovell Telescope Series 1c

‘Lovell Telescope’ (Photo: Marge Bradshaw/Royal Photographic Society)

“I have always been fascinated with the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank since I went on a school trip as a child,” says photographer Marge Bradshaw of the telescope in northwest England.

“Here, I wanted to take a series of closer, more detailed and more honest shots than we often see. Exploring the multitude of shapes and exposing the wear of the telescope, each photo in the series stands alone or can be viewed collectively. Either way, they present a powerful portrayal of machine that helps humankind in their endeavors to understand space and time.”

‘North American Nebula’

NGC7000 North American Nebula

‘NGC7000 North American Nebula’ (Photo: Dave Watson/Royal Photographic Society)

This is an image of North America Nebula, NGC7000, an emission nebula in the constellation Cygnus, close to Deneb.

“The remarkable shape of the nebula resembles that of the continent of North America, complete with a prominent Gulf of Mexico. The Cygnus Wall, a term for the ‘Mexico and Central America part’ of the North America Nebula, exhibits the most concentrated star formations in the nebula.”

‘Tribolium confusum. Confused Flour Beetle’

Tribolium confusum. Confused flour beetle.

‘Tribolium confusum. Confused flour beetle.’ (Photo: David Spears/Royal Photographic Society)

Captured by a scanning electron micrograph and then colored in Photoshop, this image is of a small pest beetle that is found in stored grain and flour products.

‘Safety Corona’

Safety Corona

‘Safety Corona’ (Photo: Richard Germain/Royal Photographic Society)

“A safety pin is connected to a high tension AC generator. The pin ionizes the air around it. When the electrons fall back on an atom, the excess energy is emitted as a photon, which generate the corona glow around the pin. The fuzziness of the pin is because the camera did not actually capture light reflected on the pin but rather the light emitted by the ionized light around it.”

‘Calmness of Eternity’

Calmness of Eternity

‘Calmness of Eternity’ (Photo: Yevhen Samuchenko/Royal Photographic Society)

Photographer Yevhen Samuchenko took this image in the Himalayas in Nepal at Gosaikunda Lake.

“The Milky Way is the galaxy that contains the Solar System, with the name describing the galaxy’s appearance from Earth: a hazy band of light seen in the night sky formed from stars that cannot be individually distinguished by the naked eye. The Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy with a diameter between 150,000 and 200,000 light-years. It is estimated to contain 100 to 400 billion stars.”

‘Mapping Oxygen’

Mapping Oxygen'

‘Mapping Oxygen’ (Photo: Yasmin Crawford/Royal Photographic Society)

This was Yasmin Crawford’s final project for her masters in photography at Falmouth University. The project focused on discovering the research behind the neuroimmune condition myalgic encephalomyelitis, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome.

“Through exploration of perspective, complexities, and scientific multidisciplinary collaborations, I create imagery that explains, reveals and connects us consciously to the ambiguous and unknown.”

‘Soap Bubble Structures’

Soap bubble structures showing light interference colors and patterning

‘Soap Bubble Structures’ (Photo: Kym Cox/Royal Photographic Society)

This colorful mosaic is actually soap bubbles.

“Bubbles want to optimize space and minimize their surface area for a given volume of air. This unique phenomenon makes them a reliable, useful tool in many areas of research. In particular, materials science and ‘packing’ – how things fit together. Bubble walls drain under gravity, thin at the top, thick at the bottom and interferes with travelling lightwaves to create bands of color. Black spots show the wall is too thin for interference colors, indicating the bubble is about to burst!”

‘Upside Down Jellyfish’

Upside down Jelly fish, Cassiopea xamachana

‘Upside down Jelly fish, Cassiopea xamachana’ (Photo: Mary Anne Chilton/Royal Photographic Society)

“Instead of swimming, this species spends its time pulsing up and down in the water. Their diet is sea plankton and their coloration comes from the uptake of algae in the water. Some jellyfish species have been documented eating plastics in the ocean. One theory suggests that algae grows on the plastic. As it breaks down, the algae creates the odor of dimethyl sulfide that attracts hungry animals.”

Mary Jo DiLonardo writes about everything from health to parenting — and anything that helps explain why her dog does what he does.

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