Have you ever wondered what caffeine crystals look like under a scanning electron microscope? How about a fluorescence micrograph of a chicken embryo? If so, the wait is over. And if you've never considered -- let alone imagined -- these scenes, prepare to be blown away.

Every year since 2000, the Wellcome Trust, a London-based medical research charity, has "[recognized] the creators of the most informative, striking and technically excellent images" to come into its possession.


The following images are the 2012 winners, and include medical photography, as well as several kinds of high-tech microscopy.

The images include false-color and stained samples, which enhance their visibility. So while some of these colors might not exist in nature, they do a lot to spur curiosity and draw attention to the capabilities of modern medicine.

The awards come on the heels of the International Society for Stem Cell Research's recent announcement of clinical trials for stem cell technology.

[via io9]

LOOK: 2012 Wellcome Image Awards

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  • Overall Winner - Intracranial recording for epilepsy

    This photograph shows the surface (cortex) of a human brain belonging to an epileptic patient, displaying the arteries and veins that supply its nutrients and oxygen. This photograph was taken before an intracranial electrode recording procedure, in which a flexible electrode grid is attached to the surface of the brain. The patient is then taken to the telemetry ward, where they are observed and recorded for a period of up to two weeks. Post-observation, the surgeon reviews the recordings and evaluates the data using the unique numbers on the grid implant to identify the specific areas of the brain that need to be removed during the next operation. This patient made a full recovery and no longer suffers from epileptic fits. Credit: Robert Ludlow, UCL Institute of Neurology, London / Wellcome Images

  • Cell division

    This composite confocal micrograph uses time-lapse photography to show a cancer cell (HeLa) undergoing cell division (mitosis). The DNA is shown in red, and the cell membrane is shown in cyan. HeLa cells undergo cell division approximately once every 16 hours. The cell spends a substantial portion of this time preparing itself for division during interphase, and the actual process by which the cell physically divides into two takes approximately one hour. The cell in the centre of the image has completed its journey through the first half of mitosis (prophase and pro-metaphase) by becoming round, then aligning its duplicated DNA in the centre (metaphase). It is now ready to pull the identical copies of DNA to opposing ends of the cell (anaphase). This is followed by cytokinesis, when the contraction of the membrane and physical separation into two daughter cells occurs. The round cell in the centre has a diameter of 20 microns. Credit: Kuan-Chung Su, London Research Institute

  • Bacillus subtilis biofilm

    This confocal micrograph shows Bacillus subtilis, a Gram-positive, rod-shaped bacterium that is commonly found in soil. Distinct lineages of bacteria expressing different fluorescent proteins were initially mixed randomly on a petri dish. As the bacteria grow, they organise themselves into reproducible patterns and shapes that can be predicted with mathematical models. The researchers took this image as part of a project designing artificial genetic circuits for pattern formation in bacterial colonies and plant tissues. Credit: Fernan Federici, Tim Rudge, PJ Steiner and Jim Haseloff / Wellcome Images

  • Arabidopsis thaliana seedling

    This confocal micrograph shows the tissue structures within the leaf of an Arabidopsis thaliana seedling. The sample was fixed and stained with propidium iodide, which labels DNA, but was imaged four years later. Over time, oxidation of the stain in different parts of the tissue provides differential fluorescent properties that can be excited with distinct wavelengths of light from a confocal microscope. The researchers are using these techniques to investigate cellular architecture in plants and gene activity. Credit: Fernan Federici and Jim Haseloff / Wellcome Images

  • Connective tissue

    This false-coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) shows connective tissue removed from a human knee during arthroscopic surgery. Individual fibres of collagen can be distinguished and have been highlighted by the creator using a variety of colours. Credit: Anne Weston, LRI, CRUK / Wellcome Images

  • Caffeine crystals

    This false-coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) shows caffeine crystals. Caffeine is a bitter, crystalline xanthine alkaloid that acts as a stimulant drug. Beverages containing caffeine - such as coffee, tea, soft drinks and energy drinks - are extremely popular, and 90 per cent of adults consume caffeine daily. In plants, caffeine functions as a defence mechanism. Found in varying quantities in the seeds, leaves and fruit of some plants, caffeine acts as a natural pesticide that paralyses and kills certain insects feeding on the plant. The whole crystal group is 40 microns in length. Credit: Annie Cavanagh / Wellcome Images

  • Xenopus laevis oocytes

    This confocal micrograph shows stage V-VI oocytes (800-1000 micron diameter) of an African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis), a model organism used in cell and developmental biology research. Each oocyte is surrounded by thousands of follicle cells, shown in the image by staining DNA blue. Blood vessels, which provide oxygen to the oocyte and follicle cells, are shown in red. The ovary of each adult female Xenopus laevis contains up to 20 000 oocytes. Mature Xenopus laevis oocytes are approximately 1.2 mm in diameter, much larger than the eggs of many other species. Credit: Vincent Pasque, University of Cambridge / Wellcome Images

  • Lavender leaf

    This false-coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) shows a lavender leaf (Lavandula), imaged at 200 microns. Lavender yields an essential oil with sweet overtones, which can be used in balms, salves, perfumes, cosmetics and topical applications. It is also used to aid sleep, to relax and to alleviate anxiety. The surface of the leaf is covered with fine hair-like outgrowths made from specialised epidermal cells called non-glandular trichomes, which protect the plant against pests and reduce evaporation from the leaf. Glandular trichomes are also present, containing the oil produced by the plant. Credit: Annie Cavanagh / Wellcome Images

  • Chicken embryo vascular system

    This fluorescence micrograph shows the vascular system of a developing chicken embryo (Gallus gallus), two days after fertilisation. Injecting fluorescent dextran revealed the entire vasculature used by the embryo to feed itself from the rich underlying yolk inside the egg. The image shows the central chicken embryo surrounded by veins and arteries. The head of the embryo, including the embryonic eye and brain, can be seen on the upper part of the embryo, just above the embryonic heart. The long lower part of the embryo is the future body of the chicken, from which legs and wings will develop. At this stage of development, the embryo and its surrounding vasculature are a little smaller than a 5p coin. Credit: Vincent Pasque, University of Cambridge

  • Diatom frustule

    This false-coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) shows a diatom frustule. Diatoms are unicellular organisms and a major group of algae. Diatoms are encased within a hard cell wall made from silica, which is known as a frustule and is composed of two halves. Frustules have a variety of patterns, pores, spines and ridges, which are used to determine genera and species. Diatoms are one of the most common types of phytoplankton, and their communities are often used to measure environmental conditions such as water quality. Credit: Anne Weston, LRI, CRUK / Wellcome Images

  • Loperamide crystals

    This false-coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) shows loperamide crystals. Loperamide, an antimotility drug used to treat diarrhoea, works by slowing down the movement of the intestine and reducing the speed at which the contents of the gut pass through. Food remains in the intestines for longer and water can be more effectively absorbed back into the body. This results in firmer stools that are passed less often. The crystal group measures approximately 250 microns across. Credit: Annie Cavanagh / Wellcome Images

  • Moth fly (Psychodidae)

    This false-coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) shows a moth fly (Psychodidae), also known as a drain fly. As its name suggests, the fly's larvae commonly live and grow in domestic drains: the adult fly emerges near sinks, baths and lavatories. The moth flies' body and wings are covered in hairs, which gives them a 'fuzzy', moth-like appearance. The fly is 4-5 mm long, and each eye is approximately 100 microns wide. Credit: Kevin MacKenzie, University of Aberdeen / Wellcome Images

  • Microneedle vaccine

    This scanning electron micrograph (SEM) shows an array of 'microneedles' made from a biodegradable polymer. Researchers have shown these materials can be used to deliver vaccines and therapeutics to the outer layers of the skin in a safe and painless way. Because the microneedles avoid contact with blood vessels and nerve endings in the deeper skin layers, microneedle application prevents pain and the transmission of blood-borne pathogens. In addition, because the skin is so accessible, microneedle application can be performed quickly, requires minimal training for healthcare providers and makes self-application by patients possible. Each microneedle is approximately 700 microns high and 250 microns wide at the base. Credit: Peter DeMuth / Wellcome Images

  • Micrasterias denticulata

    This photomicrograph shows Micrasterias, a type of green alga called a Desmid. Desmids usually inhabit the acidic waters associated with sphagnum (peat) bogs. These particular Desmids are flat, plate-like single cells made up of two halves, which are mirror images of each other. Each half (hemicell) contains a single chloroplast - the site of photosynthesis - and the nucleus occupies the centre of the cell where the two halves join. Micrasterias can reproduce asexually by binary fission (resulting in two separate cells, each of which has one of the parent's hemicells and one new hemicell); however, Micrasterias can also reproduce sexually, by a process known as conjugation, which involves the transfer of genetic material between two cells. Credit: Spike Walker / Wellcome Images

  • Cancer cells in motion

    This image depicts the chemotactic behaviour of cancer cells using a combination of epifluorescence and phase contrast microscopy. Chemotaxis, or the directed motion of cells in the presence of a small-molecule gradient, is essential in the spread of cancer from one area of the body to another. This process is known as the metastatic cascade. The cells in this image are human breast cancer cells with nuclei labelled blue and mitochondria labelled red. The cells are squeezed in micro-scale channels to be able to study large numbers of single cells migrating with varying concentrations of epidermal growth factor (EGF, shown in green) at the leading and trailing edge of the cell. This technique is being used to study cell structure during chemotaxis to help explain this complex process in the context of tumour cell dissemination. The individual channels are 12 microns wide, approximately one-tenth the width of a single human hair, and specifically engineered to enable the study of single cells. Credit: Salil Desai, Sangeeta Bhatia, Mehmet Toner and Daniel Irimia, Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Center for Engineering in Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital / Wellcome Images

  • Repair of ventricular sepal defect

    This photograph shows the surgical repair of a traumatic ventricular septal defect (VSD). A VSD is a hole between the right and left ventricles of the heart and is usually seen as a congenital condition, known as a 'hole in the heart'. A traumatic VSD, as seen in this case, is a rare complication of chest injury. It might manifest immediately after trauma, leading to heart failure and an inability to stabilise a patient, or it might be delayed and detected months later. Traumatic VSDs can be treated in a variety of ways, depending on the effect they have on the patient. Treatment options range from monitoring and a conservative approach to open surgery, as is depicted here. In this image, the VSD is seen at the bottom, and a bovine patch is being parachuted and stitched into place to seal the defect. Credit: Henry De'Ath, Royal London Hospital / Wellcome Images