Student’s Microscopic Image Uncovers Beauty in Unlikely Place and Earns Award

Mar 23, 2018 12:00 PM

By Robert Spahr ’13

FSU health science graduate Logan Cheshire ’17 captivated the judges of the recent BioArt Scientific Image and Video Competition – a contest designed to celebrate the art of life sciences – with a striking electron microscope image he made in the course of his research on mealybugs.

Cheshire captured the winning image, one of 15 in the national Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) competition, in his Advanced Microscopy class with Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Rebekah Taylor, making use of the Carl DelSignore Foundation, Inc., Microscopy Suite. Taylor and Cheshire share the award.

“It was really cool to see my name, along with Frostburg State, among the names of other winners from such prestigious schools and institutions,” Cheshire said.

“If you look at the other BioArt competition winners, you'll see entries from Yale, Harvard, the National Institutes of Health and many other research-intensive institutions,” Taylor said. “I think Frostburg State can be very proud to be among them as a winner of the BioArt competition.”

Cheshire’s winning picture, captured with Frostburg’s scanning electron microscope, found natural beauty in an unlikely place: the protective coating of “Pseudococcus affinis,” a common mealybug. To the naked eye, the insect’s waxy powder is unremarkable, but 1,800X magnification revealed the beauty.

Cheshire attributed his success in part to luck. He collected unremarkable specimens of immature mealybugs, which have no waxy coating. As the semester progressed and the mealybugs matured, they began secreting their coating.

Taylor expected that Cheshire would see random “chunks” of wax on the mature bugs’ surfaces. Yet when Cheshire looked closer with a standard light microscope, he realized the coating might be more interesting. Then he prepared his samples for a real close-up.

“Once I started to look closer at these bugs on the scanning electron microscope, I was blown away by the results. The end result was definitely unexpected, but it was pretty astounding to see,” said Cheshire. “I think that’s why Dr. Taylor’s microscopy class is so successful: She challenges her students to look at things you wouldn’t typically look at in a regular science course.”

That is one of Taylor’s goals in Advanced Microscopy.

“Looking through a microscope at something you've never seen before is an intimate and inspiring experience that I wanted all of these students to have,” Taylor said. “I think it's great for the students to have the chance at a moment of awe to help them remember how cool science can be.”

Cheshire, for one, was inspired to pursue a science-related career.

“I definitely see a future for myself in science, and more specifically in the health sciences,” said Cheshire, who has been admitted to medical school. “I just want to thank Dr. Taylor, because she really worked hard with the class to make sure every resource that we needed was available. If anything, this award shows just how great a professor she is, and it highlights the resources available at FSU.”

“Of course, none of this would be possible without the generous contributions from the DelSignore Foundation,” Taylor said. “I’m proud to maintain this facility and enjoy keeping abreast of new advances in equipment that can improve the microscopy suite and its users’ experiences.”

The BioArt Competition was created to “share the beauty and breadth of biological research with the public by celebrating the art of science.” Taylor is a member of the American Association of Immunologists, one of FASEB’s constituent societies.

BioArt winners were selected by a panel of scientists and engineers. The entries were evaluated for aesthetic impact and scientific content. Each year’s winning entries are displayed at the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C. All of the BioArt-winning images can be viewed at www.faseb.org.