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A preview of Penn Medicine cell biologists’ activities -- from art to advocacy to abstracts -- at the 2014 American Society for Cell Biology Annual Meeting in Philadelphia this week

A prevailing stereotype of scientists is inaccessible, nerdy, and out of touch, but Penn biologists and the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) want to dispel that notion.

ASCB Larger Than Life Gallery hall between Terminals E-F installation viewTo start, Larger Than Life: Cells Made Visible, a gallery of cell images from research scientists from the Greater Philadelphia area –- including many from Penn labs -- is on display at the Philadelphia airport to coincide with the annual meeting, which draws cell researchers from all around the world. It is not behind security, so anyone can see it while passing through the airport and will be up through December. 

The Exhibitions Program at PHL, a visual arts initiative to humanize the airport environment, had this to say about why they chose to feature these beautiful images:

The images made for scientific purposes are also unexpectedly beautiful with their abstract patterning and detail. The majority of the colors are artificial, added using chemical dyes or glowing proteins. The colors both enhance the artistic quality while allowing researchers to study selected structures within the cells. The scientists whose cell imagery is included in Larger Than Life are all members of ASCB, an international community of biologists studying cells.

The scientists, whose cell imagery is included in the gallery on display between Terminals E and F, are all members of ASCB. Take a look at the slide show at the end of this blog for more on that.

We are Research
Just as the Larger than Life gallery addresses the inner beauty of cells, ASCB’s We are Research initiative strives to personify scientific research. Run by the ASCB Public Policy Committee, the initiative's organizers are spurred by the tendency for scientists to hunker down and stay out of the way of policy-makers and the general public. But, given the current funding climate, they feel it’s even more important than ever to be visible. The premise of this advocacy campaign is simple: to encourage scientists to help advocate for science and research funding by submitting a lab photo to the contest and ASCB website, providing that human element to scientific research. These images will also be shared with ASCB conference participants. They will be shown on the large screens before major plenary and workshop sessions at the meeting next week.

The initiative received 106 lab photos from across the country, which were sent to 110 House and Senate offices in 29 states.

The Mullins lab and the Granato lab from the Penn department of Cell and Developmental Biology both submitted photos of their lab teams, and placed second and third, respectively, in the contest. Members of their labs are also presenting their latest findings on developmental biology at the meeting's talks and poster sessions.

ASCB Mullins lab We are Research 2014“As a member of the ASCB, I wanted to support this initiative and bring attention to who we are as scientists and the need for funding of research,” Mary Mullins, PhD, professor and vice chair of the department of Cell and Developmental Biology, told me. “We chose to display our enthusiasm for both science and our pride as Americans with the message that research advances in the U.S. are in need of increased funding at this time.”

ASCB Granato-weareresearch 2014Michael Granato PhD, a professor of Cell and Developmental Biology, and his lab members took a different tack. “We wanted to show the two 'faces' of scientists, so the right side of the picture is how scientists like us are perceived, in lab coats, wearing protective gloves, or eyewear. And then there is the mirror side of the picture depicting each of the lab members with their favorite hobby -- gym, tennis, squash, gardening, swimming, playing music, singing. Then we decided to relate it to Philadelphia by taking the shots with the city skyline. I feel strongly about revising some of the common stereotypes, and we definitively wanted to show that scientists are fun-loving people interested in all sorts of activities.”

Abstracts Aplenty
On the research side of the meeting, Penn scientists are making a huge showing, with dozens of abstracts describing oral presentations and posters listed in the meeting’s program. The research being presented by Penn faculty, students, and postdocs runs the gamut from insulin-producing neo-ß-cell islets to a fruit fly model of cerebral cavernous malformations to damaged mitochondria related to an ALS-linked mutation.

Given the wide offerings and examples on tap for the ASCB meeting, I would certainly conclude that the City of Brotherly Love could be Cell-Adelphia, a region that knows how to show off its science.

 Larger Than Life: Cells Made Visible Slide Show

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