Aurelia Honerkamp-Smith, now an Oppenheimer Fellow at the University of Cambridge, captured this image of a giant unilamellar vesicle of a diameter of roughly 120 micrometers. The lipids in the membrane have demixed into two coexisting liquid phases. A fluorescently-labeled lipid in the membrane partitions preferentially to one phase such that it appears bright (yellow) in contrast to the other phase, which is dark (red). Aurelia used a standard upright epifluorescence microscope with an air 40x objective. The vesicle was so huge that Aurelia could not get all of the vesicle in focus at one time, so she took several images at different focal depths and then knitted together concentric rings from different images to make one composite image. Aurelia consistently makes the largest single-walled vesicles I have ever seen in my life – I have no idea how she does it. I’m especially thrilled that our image was chosen as the cover because Aurelia and Cynthia Stanich (the first author) worked so long and hard on the project; we decided to combine different research threads into one grand, cohesive whole instead of dividing the work among three separate papers (which, admittedly, might have been better for our careers and funding). The idea of science as art is compelling to me – both require creativity. I think that the results we present in our Biophysical Journal paper are triply beautiful. First, they are beautiful in a physics sense, in that the equations are beautiful. Second, they are beautiful in an experimental sense, because we excluded a long list of confounding artifacts in order to make our data very clean. Third, they are beautiful in a visual sense. The images we collect are simply pleasant to look at all day, which is indeed what we do! Other examples of our recent work can be found at http://faculty.washington.edu/slkeller/.
- By Sarah L. Keller, University of Washington