THIRD PLACE - Michael Whittaker: Special Snowflake

Scientists can press ‘pause’ on cells in action by rapidly freezing them. The cells must be frozen incredibly quickly --within the blink of an eye. If the freezing process is too slow, the water inside (which makes up most of the cell) forms ice crystals.

This microscopic image shows the very early stages of one such ‘snowflake’ growing.  If left to grow each of the six, symmetrical points would continue to branch out, developing into an intricate snowflake visible to the naked eye.

In experiments like this one Whittaker and his lab freeze sea urchin cells by plunging them into liquid ethane. When frozen fast enough (and scientists avoid creating ‘snowflakes’), researchers can observe cells orchestrating the growth of skeletons. This helps us to understand biomineralization: the process of how bodies grow bones, teeth and other hard biological tissues.

Department of Materials Science & Engineering

Tools & Techniques: Scanning Electron Microscope + colored in Photoshop

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