College of LAS « Illinois

LAS students honored in Image of Research competition

Winners selected for compelling images and descriptions

Two LAS students have been honored in U of I's annual Image of Research competition, in which graduate students pair powerful images with compelling descriptions of research. Out of a pool of 20 finalists, Chris Seward, a graduate student in cell and developmental biology, won second place, and Melinda Lanius from mathematics won honorable mention and the People's Choice Award. Descriptions of the images (in their own words) are as follows.

Chris Seward, “A Clear Mind”
Chris Seward, “A Clear Mind”
Chris Seward, "A Clear Mind," second place ($300 award)

"Novel imaging techniques are necessary for examining whole brain protein expression patterns. Animal brains are large, complex structures that are difficult to image comprehensively. Neurons can be several inches long, while only a few nanometers in width and can branch in many directions connecting different regions of the brain. Laser light has trouble penetrating the dense, opaque tissue, which usually means brains can only be imaged in extremely thin slices that fail to image complete cell processes. To solve these problems, we have modified a technique called CLARITY that allows us to make a whole mouse brain completely transparent, while keeping fluorescent labels intact. This process allows us to visualize the connections of an intact brain at extremely high resolution in three dimensions. The goal of our study is to identify the proteins activated after a social stimulus, such as an intruder in an animal’s home. This image shows inhibitory neurons in green and neuron bundles expressing a protein that is triggered by a social experience in red. The blue background stain reveals important brain structures. These images allow us to connect the expression of a gene in one area of the brain, and follow it’s signal to other areas."

Melinda Lanius, “The Banana of my Eye”
Melinda Lanius, “The Banana of my Eye”
Melinda Lanius, "The Banana of my Eye," honorable mention ($100 award) and People's Choice Award ($100)

"'The apple of my eye' is something I cherish above all others. As a mathematician I study minimally degenerate Poisson manifolds. You can think of a Poisson manifold as the skin of a fruit. Imagine an apple. You probably imagine a fruit with a shiny bright red facade. This pristine and perfect skin corresponds to a non-degenerate Poisson structure. As is true when picking out fruit at the grocery store, many Poisson manifolds aren't quite perfect, but come with dents and bruises. Given a fruit (Poisson manifold), with a minor blemish, I use calculus to try and understand the damage. Sometimes I can model this degeneracy and incorporate the blemish into the geometry. For instance, I can handle the depicted banana, splitting it apart to understand subtle nuances in the geometry that other mathematicians weren't able to see before. However, I am unable to grapple with the bruise on the pear. Through the lens of Poisson geometry, I come to see flawed fruit as perfect and pristine. While this fruit may appear bruised or defective to another mathematician, it becomes the apple - or perhaps I should say banana - of my eye."

The Image of Research is a multidisciplinary competition celebrating the diversity and breadth of graduate student research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Entries were judged by a multidisciplinary panel for connection between image, text, and research; originality, and visual impact.

You can view the full gallery of finalists on Instagram.




The Graduate College

Related Topics

  • Cell and Developmental Biology
  • Mathematics
  • Student honors
  • Life science