From Lovesick Frogs to Music-Making to Mouse Memories, Photo Contest Shows Stunning Breadth of BU Research
Inaugural research photo contest winners announced at Kilachand Day celebration
In the lush green of a lowland Costa Rican rain forest, a desperate scramble is on. Thousands of male gliding tree frogs are frantically racing over rain-drenched vegetation with just one thing on their minds: find a mate. The amphibian Romeos have a fight on their hands; they outnumber females by about nine to one. They brawl and call, shove and clamber.
Their race was captured by Brandon Güell in one of three winning entries to the inaugural Boston University Research photo contest.
Güell (GRS’20,’23), a BU Graduate School of Arts & Sciences PhD candidate in biology, took his photo while studying the reproductive and behavioral ecology of the frogs, known as Agalychnis spurrelli. For months, he stood chest deep in a pond during the predawn hours, taking notes, videos, and photos to help determine the seasonal and environmental conditions that spark the lovesick males’ explosive breeding. In his photo, about 20 males—each only a couple of inches long from nose to rear end—struggle over each other and recently laid eggs in their quest for a partner.
“I hope to use photography not only to communicate science, but also to help inspire a passion for wildlife and create advocates for conservation,” says Güell. “I hope sharing this photo provides others with an opportunity to appreciate this particularly spectacular display of wildlife and animal behavior.”
The photo contest was open to all faculty, students, and staff—images had to show some aspect of research, whether they were snapped in the field with a phone or pulled from the depths of space by a telescope. Run by the University’s research office, the competition had more than 120 entries in three categories—field research, research happening at BU, and research imaging—with three winners and six runners-up chosen by a panel of faculty and staff judges. The winners were announced during BU’s Kilachand Day celebration, which marked the $115 million commitment made in 2017 by alum Rajen Kilachand (Questrom’74, Hon.’14) to support life sciences and engineering research at the University. Güell topped the photo contest’s field research category.
“The photo contest is a wonderful way to bring alive not only the breadth of our research and scholarship, but the important role that our faculty, staff, and students all have in our research and scholarly endeavors,” says Gloria Waters, BU vice president and associate provost for research. “We were amazed by not only the number of applications, but also the quality of entries.”
View a gallery of the winners and runners-up below.
Winner: Brandon Güell (GRS’20,’23)
2nd place: Malika Kounkourou (Pardee’22)
Kounkourou studied environmental peacebuilding and uranium mining in Niger and around Africa. She photographed this person, from the nomadic Tuareg—a group heavily impacted by mining—in the Sahara, close to the city of Arlit, Niger.
3rd place: Tina Nospal (CFA’10,’22)
Nospal, a recent BU music education research assistant and now an assistant professor at Berklee College of Music, says this image captures her research focus “on collaborative practices in the diverse, inclusive music classroom.”
Research Happening at BU
Winner: M. Isabel Dominguez, School of Medicine assistant professor of medicine
This photograph of Xenopus frog tadpoles was taken using a stereomicroscope, which provides 3D images of a subject. “We are studying frog tadpoles to advance our understanding of how embryos develop and to model diseases,” says Dominguez. “Frog tadpoles are an excellent model to elucidate the mechanisms of human diseases as many fundamental biological processes are conserved.” One focus of her work is a rare neurodevelopmental disease, Okur-Chung neurodevelopmental syndrome, which can delay language development and impact muscle tone.
2nd place: Joshua Javor (ENG’21), College of Engineering postdoctoral scholar
Working with his PhD advisor, Javor developed a contactless electrocardiogram, or EKG, that uses magnets to measure the heart’s electrical signals. Despite dominating the image, the cuboid magnet in the device is finer than a human hair; the image was taken with help from a scanning electron microscope. Javor and his advisor, David Bishop, an ENG professor and head of materials science and engineering, are commercializing the technology.
3rd place: Lena Dubitsky (ENG’23)
Dubitsky was imaging a drop of water to test the surface properties of a glass slide when she took this photo. “How a small drop of water sits on a surface tells you key information about the physical properties of the surface,” she says. “If the glass slide is very hydrophobic, like a waterproof raincoat, then the drop will bead up into a tight ball. Conversely, a drop will spread out into a puddle if the slide is hydrophilic. Here, the flattened drop shows that the slide is hydrophilic.”
Winner: Jess Holz, research technician, BU Neural Systems Laboratory
Although these colorful shards look like a modern art sculpture, they’re actually a 3D reconstruction of what’s happening with neurons in the brain as it experiences emotions. “The image shows a high magnification view of prefrontal connections in the brain involved in emotional processes, which go awry in depression,” says Holz. “More specifically, it depicts an area of the brain known as subgenual cingulate—area 25—which is hyperactive in depression.” Outside of BU, Holz is an artist who specializes in micrography, photos taken through microscopes. “At work, I use a transmission electron microscope looking at the brain,” says Holz. “In my art, I use a different type of electron microscope to create surreal landscapes out of insects and plants.” Holz’s winning image was a collaboration with Mary Katherine P. Joyce (MED’20).
2nd place: Rebecca Suthard (MED’26)
In the Ramirez Lab at BU, Suthard is part of a team studying the storage and retrieval—and artificial modulation—of memories. “This image captures a snapshot of the mouse ventral hippocampus CA1, a brain region involved in processing memories,” she says. “Specifically, this region is important for fear and reward processing, social interaction, and anxiety behaviors.” One goal of the lab is to find new approaches to mental health disorders.
3rd place: Nicholas Crossland, MED assistant professor of pathology and laboratory medicine
At BU’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL), researchers are studying SARS-CoV-2’s impact on the body—including the brain. “This image highlights a cross section of a mouse brain at the level of the hippocampus, a region critical for learning and memory,” says Crossland, who is researching the neurological complications that have been connected to long COVID with hopes of spurring new ways to prevent and treat the condition. The image was taken with support from Florian Douam, a MED assistant professor of microbiology, Hans Gertje, a NEIDL lab supervisor, Devin Kenney (MED’27), Aoife O’Connell, a MED research assistant and NEIDL histotechnician, and Anna Tseng (MED’22).