Science photography prize for polymer particles resembling golf balls

03 Apr 2017 00:15:00.000

PA 64/17

They might look like golf balls but they are far from it. These tiny ‘golf ball’ shaped mircoparticles – only 0.04mm across – could one day be used to repair damaged human tissue. High res and web images can be found here.

This prize winning image shows a collection of biodigradable dimpled microparticles for enhanced cell growth. It was taken by Dr Marta Alvarez Paino from the School of Pharmacy at The University of Nottingham. It took first prize in the ‘Weird and Wonderful’ category of a national science photography competition organised by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Now in its fourth year the EPSRC’s Science Photography Competition features five categories: Eureka & Discovery, Equipment & Facilities, People & Skills, Innovation, and Weird & Wonderful. This year the competition received over 100 entries drawn from researchers in receipt of EPSRC funding.

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Dr Alvarez Paino said: “The ‘Weird and Wonderful’ looking tiny biodegradable polymer particles are being developed to promote regeneration of damaged tissues. Only 0.04mm across, they form part of scaffolds which are being studied to see if they can support the growth of healthy new cells.”

Biomaterials research

Dr Alvarez Paino’s research is focused on the development of new biomaterials to enhance tissue repair capabilities in 3D cultures – an artificially created environment. 

Material properties including topography, chemistry and stiffness have been demonstrated to individually have an impact on mammalian cell fate. 

Through a better understanding of cell-biomaterial interactions the research team in the School of Pharmacy is designing a library of 3D chemically modified textured microparticulate architectures. These materials will provide a screening platform for new biomaterials discovery which could potentially induce tissue regeneration.

Nanoscale and Microscale Research Centre

The image was taken using the JEOL 6060LV SEM in the Nanoscale and Microscale Research Centre at The University of Nottingham. The SEM is a Scanning Electron Microscope, which allows researchers to look at the surface of a sample at the microscale which cannot normally be done using traditional light microscopes.  Rather than using a light source to image the sample, an electron beam is used.

The Centre itself bristles with all the very latest in microscopy. It allows us to peer into the fundamental world of the very, very, small and addresses some of the major challenges facing humanity – medicine, materials for energy production and storage, electronic devices, novel catalysts.

These world-class facilities offer expertise in nanoscale characterisation, specialised sample preparation and micro/nano structure fabrication. It enables and enhances cross faculty, institutional and industrial collaborations and provides a first-class training environment for researchers across the world.

Celebrating the emotional and artistic aspects of science

One of the judges physicist, oceanographer and broadcaster, Dr Helen Czerski, Lecturer at UCL, said: “Scientists and engineers are often so busy focussing on the technical details of their research that they can be blind to what everyone else sees first: the aesthetics of their work. Science is a part of our culture, and it can contribute in many different ways. This competition is a wonderful reminder of the emotional and artistic aspects of science, and it’s great that EPSRC researchers have found this richness in their own work.”

Congratulating the winners and entrants, Professor Tom Rodden, EPSRC’s Deputy Chief Executive, said: “The quality of entries into our competition demonstrates that EPSRC-funded researchers are keen to show the world how beautiful and interesting science and engineering can be. I’d like to thank everyone who entered; judging was really difficult.

“These stunning images are a great way to engage the public with the research they fund, and inspire everyone to take an interest in science and engineering.” 

The judges were: 

Martin Keene - Group Picture Editor - Press Association Dr Helen Czerski - Lecturer at the Department of Mechanical Engineering, University College London Professor Tom Rodden - EPSRC’s Deputy Chief Executive 
The first, second and third prize winning images with descriptions are all available to download from the EPSRC website  


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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham has 43,000 students and is ‘the nearest Britain has to a truly global university, with a “distinct” approach to internationalisation, which rests on those full-scale campuses in China and Malaysia, as well as a large presence in its home city.’ (Times Good University Guide 2016). It is also one of the most popular universities in the UK among graduate employers and was named University of the Year for Graduate Employment in the 2017 The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide. It is ranked in the world’s top 75 by the QS World University Rankings 2015/16, and 8th in the UK for research power according to the Research Excellence Framework 2014. It has been voted the world’s greenest campus for four years running, according to Greenmetrics Ranking of World Universities.

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest-ever fundraising campaign, is delivering the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news…


Story credits

Note to editors: More information is available from the EPSRC Press Office on +44 (0) 1793 444 404,

Biomaterials research: More information is available from Dr Marta Alvarez Paino, or Dr Felicity Rose on +44 (0) 115 8467856,

  Lindsay Brooke

Lindsay Brooke - Media Relations Manager

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5751 Location: University Park

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