Capturing Inner Beauty: Medical Imagery That Delves into the Aesthetic [Slide Show]

February's issue of Scientific American features a beautiful close-up image of a placenta taken by Norm Barker, associate professor of pathology and art as applied to medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Barker specializes in photo-microscopy and natural science photography, and his work appears in the permanent collections of more than 40 museums, including the Smithsonian, the American Museum of Natural History and the Science Museum in London.

Barker's most recent book, Paleobotanical Splendor, documents fossilized plant material. His next opus—to be published later this year—explores medicine and pathology.

Here, SA showcases several more of Barker's photographs, which reveal the hidden beauty of medical implements as well as bodily organs such as muscles, brains, livers and kidneys.

» View the Medical Imagery Slide Show

  • Tools

    These surgical micro-burrs are used in everything from dentistry to neurosurgery. Each tip is highly specialized, made of high-quality stainless steel or titanium, and many of them have a diamond crust. Using these tools, surgeons can cut, clean, shape, smooth and carve even the hardest human bones.

  • Smoker's Lung
    Smoker's Lung

    Long-time smokers run the risk of developing everything from bronchitis and lung cancer to strokes and heart disease as well as emphysema (pictured). The light spots are regions where light shines through the lung whereas the black regions reveal carbon accumulations. 4x Magnification

  • Cirrhosis of the Liver
    Cirrhosis of the Liver

    The liver is the only human organ that can regenerate itself. It's also the largest organ in the body. But even this big, complex structure is susceptible to degradation—specifically from cirrhosis. Heavy alcohol use as well as hepatitis B and C are the most common causes of cirrhosis, a disease in which the normal liver tissue (stained red here) is replaced by fibrous tissue (stained blue here). The liver tries to regenerate, but it is walled off by these fibrous boundaries. 60x Magnification

  • Gallstones


    This might look like a nice rock collection, but these stones didn't come from the ground. They're gallstones, little crystalline deposits that form within the gallbladder. Although they may be beautiful, those who suffer from gallstones often deal with extreme pain, and the sharp pebbles can block bile ducts and cause pancreatitis and other life-threatening conditions. 4x Magnification

  • Kidney Glomeruli
    Kidney Glomeruli

    Wrapped like balls of yarn—these glomeruli fill our kidneys, helping filter our blood. The kidney does everything from regulating salt balance to removing waste to secreting hormones to keep our fluid levels stable. Blood passes through the capillaries that make up the glomeruli, and the filtrate then moves through tubes that add or remove electrolytes. 400x Magnification

  • Striated Muscle
    Striated Muscle

    Every time you jump, kick or run for the bus, you're using three different kinds of muscle: smooth, striated and cardiac. Striated muscle (pictured) is what powers voluntary movement, like running, and is made up of little proteins called actin and myosin. The bands of these proteins show up easily when the muscle is stained, like it is here, clearly demonstrating how striated muscle got its name. 400x Magnification

  • Agar Petri Dishes
    Agar Petri Dishes

    These colorful plates are full of bacteria and fungi cultured by microbiologists to study disease. The plates contain things like antibiotics, nutrients and dyes that help researchers isolate what agents promote or stunt the organisms' growth—and what might kill the microbes.

  • Paget's Disease
    Paget's Disease

    This image is a photo-micrograph of bone from a patient with Paget's disease. Normal bones go through something called turnover—old bone is removed and replaced by new bone, much like skin. For bones, the rate of turnover is about 15 percent each year. But for those with Paget's disease, that rate is ramped up over 100 times—which makes them denser and brittler than normal. This photograph shows orange and blue lines in the bone known as lamellae. The mosaic-like patterns of these colors shows that the turnover in patients with Paget's disease is chaotic. 200x Magnification

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