News and events

Festive science image 'a reminder of how medical research keeps us safe'

Last updated



Winners of our first ever Festive Science Image Competition, run in partnership with the Medical Research Council (MRC), have been announced today.

The 1st place image - 'Cold Comforts' - shows virus particles which resemble microscopic snowflakes.

Offering a timely reminder of how medical research helps to keep us safe over the festive period, the image shows spikes on a SARS-CoV-2 virus particle, which have been bound and neutralised by protective vaccine-induced antibodies.

The competition invited Foundation and MRC-funded researchers, staff and students to produce a science image with direct relevance to medical research, combined with a festive theme.

Our judges, who work in science, medical research, communications and public engagement, were looking for eye-catching, high-quality images, along with a clear explanation for non-scientific audiences.

Three winners were selected, with the 1st place image chosen to feature on the Foundation and MRC's joint Season's Greetings card for 2022.

2023 Festive Science Image Competition

If you'd like to enter 2023's competition, sign up for updates in our newsletter.

Sign up now

1st place - Cold Comforts, by Dr Ed Hutchinson, a virology researcher at the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research

"These snowflake patterns are a reminder of how medical research helps to keep us safe over the festive period. Vaccine developers are interested in the structures of viruses, many of which resemble microscopic snowflakes. Here, the adenoviruses and lipid nanoparticles which are used to make COVID vaccines swirl around a SARS-CoV-2 virus particle, whose spikes have been bound and neutralised by protective vaccine-induced antibodies.​"

You can download patterns for these, and many other snowflakes showing how medical research protects us from viruses on the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research's website.

2nd place - Candlelight, by Lucia Luengo Gutierrez, a PhD student at the MRC Mitochondrial Biology Unit

"This photograph shows the top view of a candle as observed through diffraction glasses, which splits the candlelight into the multitude of rainbow colours that compose it. This mesmerising image evokes traditional candlelit family dinners and seasonal festivities, a symbol of hope, warmth and nativity. Diffraction has been extensively used in Medicine, for example, to measure the size of our cells and detect abnormalities.​"

Highly commended - Virus Assay Tree, by Dr Elisabetta Groppelli, a virologist at St George’s University of London

"In virology it is crucial to quantify the number of viral particles in a sample. For SARS-CoV-2, this is done with the Plaque Assay. Cells are grown in round dishes dense as tiles on a floor, and sample added. Some cells are infected and die, leaving a 'hole' in the floor. A violet dye stains the surviving cells and the resulting clear patches (virus-induced plaques) are counted."​

"The Plaque Assay looks both terrifying and beautifully encouraging: it shows the killing power of viruses, but also how scientists harness that power as a tool to tackle virus and disease.​​"

Support us

Enter the 2023 competition!

If you're an MRC or Foundation-funded researcher, you can enter the 2023 competition - open now!

Find out more
Cold comforts