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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Two place in photo contest


This image of a Quaking Aspen tree leaf was stitched together from 127 photographs. It placed 18th in Nikon’s 2011 Small World Competition. (Photo courtesy of Benjamin Blonder)

Two members of the UA community received big recognition for the tiny image they put together.

Their image of a Quaking Aspen tree leaf, constructed from 127 photos taken under a microscope and then stitched together, placed 18th in Nikon’s 2011 Small World Photomicrography Competition. The competition recognizes images that showcase the complexity of life through the light microscope.

Benjamin Blonder, a graduate student studying ecology and evolutionary biology, said he had to take high-quality images of leaf vein networks for his research about plants adapting to their climates.

“I knew leaf vein networks would make very compelling images,” Blonder said. “So I made sure we had one for the competition.”
The image has been displayed online by MSNBC, Wired, the Atlantic Monthly and the CBS News Sunday Morning program. The competition received about 2,000 entries, Blonder said.

Their image was chosen by the competition’s editors, but the other half of the contest, which is determined by popular voting, is ongoing.

To compete at an international level, Blonder said he had to find a way to take higher resolution images of the leaf vein networks, which is why more than 120 individual frames of the leaf were taken instead of just one picture.

Blonder collaborated with David Elliott, an assistant professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Medicine and a photomicrographer who’s been stitching digital photos together since the late 1990s. Elliott processed Blonder’s photos, he said.
Although Elliott said he has been aware of the competition for years, initially he didn’t know Blonder intended to use the image to compete.

“For microscopists, this competition is something we all know about. A lot of us have posters hanging on our walls or one of the competition’s calendars,” Elliott said. “It’s my understanding that our image will be September in the 2012 calendar. I’ve had pictures on journal covers before, but this is something that a lot more people will see. It’s great and a lot of fun.”

The first-place winner in the competition received $3,000 toward the purchase of Nikon equipment. Blonder gave their $100 prize to Elliott.

“David put a lot of time into the imaging and I thought it was best thing to do,” Blonder said. “Plus he’s a Nikon buff. I use Canon.”
Elliot said he was as impressed with the importance of Blonder’s research as he was with the image itself.

It’s been proposed that most plants won’t evolve fast enough to track changing climates, Blonder said. If climate change occurs faster than evolution, species will go extinct or shift their ranges to different parts of the planet.

“Since we depend on plants for a lot of ecosystem services and food, it’s in our interest to understand how plants will solve the changing climate dilemma,” Blonder said. “This research suggests that vein networks inside of leafs allow plants a large range of acclimation. It’s a promising sign.”

Elliott and Blonder both said they plan on competing again, although not necessarily together.

“I’ll continue to send photos in, although I don’t have any hope of doing this well again because it’s a huge competition,” Elliott said. “But I’ll keep submitting them.”

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