Researcher wins photography competition with uplifting ant-ics

Parin Shah - News Reporter 27 February 2010

Art and science clashed in the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) photography competition, with the winner providing a perfect antidote to the view that science lacks aesthetics.

The photo was taken by Dr Thomas Endlein, then working in the Cambridge department of Zoology. It depicts an ant withstanding monstrous pulling forces, carrying a mass more than a hundred times its body weight.

Endlein explained to The Cambridge Student (TCS): “Weaver ants were my model organism to study the conflict of locomotion and adhesion”.  He went on to say that ants can suspend “even up to 1000 times their own body weight”.

Endlein reflected that he “wanted to highlight the fragility of the ant’s body which juxtaposes with the solidity of the weight. Moreover, the two things contrast nicely in colour: the organic, warm red of the ant with the cold metallic silver of the weight.”

Endlein’s creativity has struck a chord with the public, making him an overnight sensation in nearly all the national newspapers.

Modestly he states that his aim was to “inspire people to think differently about insects: not just as annoying ‘bugs’ but as fantastic creatures.”

Mathematics student Alex Owen said, “I know that numbers and formulae can be beautiful, but ants? I just didn’t think it was possible. It’s a remarkable photograph which makes me want to tread a lot more carefully!”

The BBSRC said “it won first prize because it was a beautiful image and managed to convey complex science”.

For the scientific, some of the ant’s physical controls “combine active neuronal and muscular mechanisms with very clever passive mechanisms which reduce the complexity of their neuronal network.”

For the rest of you, feel free to just marvel at what is a tremendously pretty picture.

Parin Shah – News Reporter