Colorful, high-resolution images of a mouse brain and zebra fish embryo may not be the first thing you’d expect to come across while rushing to board a flight at Washington Dulles International Airport. But beginning this month many people will do just that.
Forty-six scientific images, including the one above, will deck the walls of the airport’s Gateway Gallery as a part of Life: Magnified—an exhibit that gives visitors a glimpse at microscopic biological structures magnified up to 50,000 times.
One scientist illuminated a possible cause for Alzheimer’s in his image of a mouse brain with the neurodegenerative disease, shown here. Alvin Gogineni, a research associate at Genentech, wanted to see if amyloid-beta plaques—abnormal clusters of protein fragments—disrupt the flow of messages that are usually passed along by neurons in the brain. The image above shows a section of the mouse’s dentate gyrus—an area of the brain that is responsible for memory and learning (and which is typically damaged in Alzheimer’s patients). Gogineni designed the experiment so that a certain light turned the mouse’s neurons green, the amyloid-beta plaques blue and the blood vessels red.
Gogineni was able to show that amyloid-beta plaque deters the transmission of signals between neurons. “We have the capability now to image these neurons and say, yes, those neurons do lose synaptic connections when they are close to an amyloid-beta plaque,” he notes.
The American Society for Cell Biology, along with the National Institute of General Medical Sciences organized the exhibit and solicited images from researchers. Although Gogineni doubted his image would be accepted, with all the public attention to the disease (Alzheimer's is the number six leading cause of death in the U.S., and is only expected to get worse), he thought he might have a chance.
Gogineni hopes this experience will help draw attention to scientific research taking place throughout the world. “I think it’s a great forum for showing people how beautiful science can be. In addition to making pretty images, you can see how powerful imaging is when it comes to making medical advances.”
The images are all available at the Life: Magnified Online exhibit for those who will not be visiting Washington, D.C. The exhibit runs through this November.

– Kevin Schultz