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Friday December 9th

Microscopic image highlights professor's big research

<p>Zhen Gu (right) and Ph.D. student Yanqi Ye demonstrate the equipment used to take Gu’s award-winning photo of the insulin patch the lab developed.</p>
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Zhen Gu (right) and Ph.D. student Yanqi Ye demonstrate the equipment used to take Gu’s award-winning photo of the insulin patch the lab developed.

The winning photo is a fluorescent microscopic image of the smart insulin patch’s microneedles.

“‘Smart’ means that the insulin patch has glucose-responsive elements embedded inside,” Gu said. “They can sense the glucose levels, and they can release insulin at the right time.”

Gu said this microneedle technology allows the treatment to be simple and painless.

“This is our motivation — to make things more precise and more convenient,” he said.

Though Gu thinks the image is beautiful, he was surprised that the magazine recognized the image.

“One of my friends actually told me,” Gu said. “They sent me an email saying, ‘Congratulations,’ and I was like, ‘What?’”

Gu said he thinks the image received the award because of its high quality but more importantly because of the impact his and his team’s research will have.

Nala Rogers, who wrote the article for Science, said the list acknowledged substantial research and quality images.

“It stood out pretty clearly as something that was in a different category than the cool other pictures we had, and that helped draw attention to the story,” Rogers said.

“We had a lot of those with animal stories, but it was a little harder to find those that really helped explain engineering or microbiology.”

Rogers also said scientific photography can help explain and prove scientific research.

“It’s so helpful to have a picture. As a science journalist, I’m often trying to have researchers explain to me what they’re doing in a way that I can visualize it,” Rogers said.

elin o’Hara slavick, director of graduate studies of studio practice in UNC’s Art Department, also said photography plays a vital role in scientific research.

“You need that lens,” she said. “You need that massification or reflection or device to see that you can’t see with just your eye.”

Slavick also said science and art are very connected and that photographers used to need a basic knowledge of chemistry and alchemy.

“For me, what’s interesting as an artist and photographer is that photographers used to be like scientists,” she said.

Roger also said there is a connection between science photography and artistry.

“I imagined there are different art forms involved in being able to take a clear, interesting image of something microscopic versus animal photography versus space photography,” Rogers said.

“I think there are many different specialties and fields and artistry in all of them.”

But for Gu, his goal for the image was to capture his research.

“Most of the times, you just want to take a good picture, and it’s actually very hard to do that.”



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