Looking at a winning submission for the first-ever George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) Art of Science Contest, one might not know the bright purple and green colors represent olfactory bulb interneurons and astrocytes in the brain; but that’s the beauty of art: there’s more to it than meets the eye.
The contest shows off the amazing research medical students, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows are conducting “through dynamic and beautiful images,” said Alison Hall, PhD, associate dean for research workforce development and professor of neurology as SMHS.
This year’s four contest winners — chosen by a team of SMHS deans, students, and staff — received small cash prizes and will have their images displayed in the Dean’s Suite in Ross Hall.
Grand prize winner, first-year MD student Aslam Akhtar, PhD, said a push from classmates and class discussions about the olfactory bulb neurons, which are the neurons responsible for our sense of smell, led him to enter his image in the contest.
“I hope when someone walks by they reflect more about the deeper meaning,” Akhtar said, “that it will create an appreciation for the complexity of the brain and the lifelong impacts that diseases of the brain can have.”
The image, he added, arose from his neurodevelopmental research he has done on how neurons in the brain develop from neural stem cells after birth. “There are only a few regions of the brain where neurons are generated after birth — the olfactory bulb being one of these regions,” he said. “If we can better understand the characteristics of the stem cells that generate these neurons, we can apply that knowledge toward replacing or supporting cells lost in neurodegenerative diseases.”
This year, 12 images were submitted for consideration, and Hall said she hopes even more images, reflecting even broader approaches are submitted in the years to come. The contest will be an annual event, with the winners each year adding to the display in the Dean’s Suite and SMHS communications.
Winner Shabnum Patel, PhD, a post-doctoral fellow with the GW Cancer Center, submitted an image showing off her research in immunotherapy. “For this image, we were focused on making Mucor-specific T-cells to fight the fungal infection Mucormycosis,” she said. “We thought [the contest] would be a nice way not only to display a beautiful picture, but also to get people interested in the type of research that we do.”
Hall added that the beauty of the entries is what makes the contest so interesting.
“[When choosing a winner] we didn’t ask ‘Is this an important scientific advance?’ or ‘Is this technique important?’ We were really just looking at how attractive it was,” Hall said. “But beneath these pretty images are major advances in our understanding of biomedical science and potential medical advances.”