Science turned into inspiration at FotoCiencia 2021


The picture is microscopically beautiful. What appears to be the multicolored tail of a male peacock is actually – under a microscope lens – an image of a fibroblast, a cell that forms part of body tissues, such as tendons, ligaments and bones.

That image of vivid shades of green and blue with flashes of red took first place in the ‘Micrography’ category for the FotoCiencia 2021 Science Photography Competition, of the National Secretariat for Science, Technology and Innovation (Senacyt), an initiative celebrated in its fourth year with the goal of capturing professional or amateur photographers From Panama their scientific point of view in a screenshot.

Thus, Isaac Vargas received that award with the photo of “Amazing Cellular Network – Healthy” at the award ceremony held last Thursday, December 16, 2021.

Vargas, a biomedical engineer, has a master’s degree in this discipline with a major in biomedical imaging and microscopy, both studies completed at the University of Arkansas (being a Senacyt Fellow for his undergraduate degree). I’m not a photographer, but you could say I’m a photographer of the microscopic world. I also find inspiration from the same thing because it is something we cannot see with the naked eye, but it holds many secrets,” he confirms.

Today the engineer works as configuration officer and planner in the sales operations division of Philips GBS, managing the configuration of multi-modality medical equipment (monitoring, CT, cardiology, imaging software, among others) for the entire Latin American sector.

The winning Vargas image was recreated using an OLYMPUS FV10i laser scanning confocal microscope (magnification: 60x – scale: 1400 pixels = 50 μm). It is able to excite and capture the light of fluorescent particles that have previously been added to cells by chemical treatments. The image consists of multiple layers that together allow us to observe the amazing detail of cellular organization.

This image shows an intact cytoskeleton that provides shape and anchorage to the cell. These are essential, Vargas explains, because they allow organelles such as mitochondria to move throughout the cell to produce energy, which in turn is essential in the cell’s nucleus dividing (mitosis). In addition to playing an important role in wound healing, fibroblasts are responsible for the synthesis of the extracellular matrix that gives rise to the connective tissue of multiple organs. Because of this, a healthy cellular network is essential to the functioning of the entire organism, he asserts.

“My main motive has always been the same since I started my steps in science: to contribute my sandbag to the scientific field, while at the same time educating those who don’t know or care about research,” says Vargas, out of the 12 winners of this year’s competition that got a total 500 photos for the competition.

Vargas with his photo tries to show that “there is beauty, even in small places, and at the same time defines a technique of photo-taking that is not yet regularly used in our country.”

This is the first time he has participated in FotoCiencia. “Getting #1 is a privilege I certainly wasn’t expecting. I am so grateful to Senacyt for allowing me to be a representative of the amazing science and technology initiatives that are taking place today. Finally, it’s yet another achievement in my career as a scientist, and I know I’ll take him everywhere with me.”

For his part, Alex Witjes Parreira took second place in this section with his picture “Pixel, the minimum unit of color”, while Julio El Delgado came in third place with his picture “Oasis Gamma, a better future”.

‘scientific reseach’

Medical tech Mabel Martinez, who specializes in biomedical sciences and has a master’s degree in health services management, won first place for FotoCiencia in the “Scientific Research” category with the image of “Women ready to fight”.

Martinez, Head of the Department of Immunology at the Central Public Health Reference Laboratory of the Gorgas Memorial Institute of Health Studies (Icges), stresses that her main motivation for re-creating the winning image is “to publicize it and to leave evidence of the work done by many Panamanian scientists, indomitable women.” Inexhaustible multitaskers and innate fighters, work that has been demonstrated by the work that has been done since we faced the international health emergency due to COVID-19.”

This image, in which a scientist is seen, was recreated in an immunology lab using two pipettes, tools of her daily work. Martinez, who is not a photographer, but who, like many, enjoys capturing moments through photography, says this is a way to “show the world the love we feel for science.”

This is the first time that Martínez has participated in FotoCiencia. For her, receiving this award represents that teamwork generates better results. “At first glance, we see a picture, but behind it is the work of the hands, hearts and minds of the members of the Icges Immunovirology team.”

Photography “Drops of Life” by Joseph Araz; And John Zamora’s shot “Chemical Gloss in Action”, ranked second and third in the same category.

“Science in the daily lives of children and youth”

Criminal Investigation graduate Balbino Macias, currently an expert in forensic medicine, is an amateur photographer who won first place in the “Science in the Everyday Life of Children and Young People” category at FotoCiencia 2021 with his “Nature Grows” photo.

This amateur photographer comments on Panama star His motivators for making the picture were “a desire to compete, an interest in showing the work my sister Anis was doing for being just a girl and seeing her passion for science reflected in a picture.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, her sister has started growing seedlings, studying how they grow day by day. “It’s impressive how this girl’s curiosity prompted her to set up her own nursery, an initiative she doesn’t plan to put off, because she dreams of contributing to a green Panama,” she says.

Macías had the opportunity to participate in other photography competitions, but it is the first time he has won an award, and he is happy to achieve it with a shot in which his sister was the hero.

On the other hand, images of “Mom, why is it raining?” , by Litzi Chiru G., and “Caring for Plants: A Way to Loving Botany” by Yazmín Cornejo, placed second and third in the same category.

environment and climate change

Undergraduate student Christian Sangor, a 19-year-old studying a degree in machine drawing at the Technological University of Panama, is the author of the image “The Awakening in La Yaguada,” a photo that won first place in the “Environment and Climate Change” category of FotoCiencia 2021.

The photo was taken from the La Yeguada website which described it as “comfortable”. Senghor asserts that he was excited to compete with this image because it can make a huge artistic, cultural and touristic impact. “I did this with one of my first cameras, a Canon T5, with a 24mm lens, lying right on my back with my camera to make it as stunning as possible. The message I am trying to send with it is that we must take care of every one of these beautiful places in our country so It continues to be the most amazing ever.”

Since he was 16 years old, Sangor has devoted himself to photography for portraits, landscapes and gourmet nature portraits, and this is the first time he has participated in FotoCiencia.

Winning this award is “a lot” to him, since he started taking pictures, he has always dreamed of “seeing one of my photos as a contest winner, or being the cover of a magazine”. Receiving this recognition also symbolizes for him that “the difficulties that appear in life do not matter, but we must continue the struggle to do what we love and fill our souls,” as he put it.

In the “Environment and Climate Change” category, Marco F. Chen took second place in the “Scars” category, while Luis Zamora Fei took third place in the “Caribbean Diversity” category.

At the award ceremony for the National FotoCiencia 2021 National Scientific Photography Competition, Dr. Eduardo Ortega Parrilla, National Secretary of Senacyt, commented that photography as an artistic expression has the power to communicate, evoke emotion, tell stories and inspire. In this sense, “Through FotoCiencia, Senacyt seeks to bring scientific knowledge closer to the population. Congratulations to this year’s winners.”

Soon, Senacyt will have a virtual exhibition of “FotoCiencia” with free access, where those interested will be able to download photos of participants in the different editions of the competition.

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