Award for making the miniature massive

Thursday, 30 October 2014

3D microscopy colour

Microscopist, Dr Louise Hughes, who runs the Bioimaging Unit at Brookes, has just won a New England Bioscience, Passion in Science award.

The prestigious international award acknowledges Louise’s ground-breaking work using 3-D printing to bring microscopy to the public, including enabling blind people to, literally, get to grips with models of organisms (pictured).

This enables them to understand miniature structures, such as viruses and parasitic organisms in a way which had not been possible before.

The feedback was that she had never before been able to do something like this or interact with a microscope and she found the session really interesting.

Dr Louise Hughes, Oxford Brookes University Bio-imaging Unit researcher and microscopist

Referring to the recent Science Uncovered exhibition at the Natural History Museum in London, where the Brookes team showed the models to the public, Louise said:

“We had some blind and partially sighted visitors on the evening who gave very positive feedback, as did the general public.

“At a private test session a few days prior to Science Uncovered we had a visit from a young woman who had been blind her entire life. During the session she handled a microscope and the 3D printed models. The feedback was that she had never before been able to do something like this or interact with a microscope and she found the session really interesting. “

Louise’s 3D models have also inspired a fresh response from researchers, as Louise explained:

“Interpretation of complex biological structure as seen with an electron microscope can be difficult. What this project has shown me is that producing a 3D model not only helps those who cannot see images on a screen to appreciate microscopy, but it also helps facilitate the interpretation of data for researchers. I am a microscopist and used to 3D visualisation but this is not the case for researchers with whom I collaborate. There have been many instances where I have produced a 3D printed model of a cell structure, only to have the researchers then come up with new ideas based on their changed perceptions of its structure.”

Louise adds; “This can then be extended. If it helps researchers, it can help non-scientists to interpret biology that much more.”

It was a personal interest in combining science and art including 3D printing and making jewellery items out of microscopy data which led Louise to consider the value of 3D printing in using it as an outreach tool.

3d organisms

Louise explains how it works:

“Being able to see microscopic structure is a fundamental aspect of understanding biology, without it our understanding of cells and tissues would be far behind what we know today. Using 3D electron microscopy techniques I can image and model miniature structures and can convert these models into data that 3D printers can use and generate sculptures of these structures which are several million times their normal size.

Commenting on the new accolade, Louise said: ”The award helps to establish that what we are doing is innovative and of interest to others. As it is an international award it certainly helps to raise awareness of the excellent work Oxford Brookes is doing as well as raising the profile for our Bio-Imaging Unit.” 

The Bioimaging Unit will be taking the models to the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council's Great British Science Festival this weekend (14-16 November) in London. The festival is a prestigious event where the team can share and highlight their excellent work.