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A photo celebration of scientists at work

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Scientist taking measurements on a beach next to a leatherback sea turtle

In this year’s overall winning photo, Callie Veelenturf measures pH, conductivity and temperature near a leatherback sea turtle’s nest during research in Equatorial Guinea. Credit: Jonah Reenders

This shot of marine biologist Callie Veelenturf kneeling with a sea turtle is the overall winner of Nature’s 2018 #ScientistAtWork photo contest, which celebrates the diversity and importance of the research scientists dedicate huge chunks of their lives to.

Veelenturf has just started a position at the Turtle Island Restoration Network, in Olema, California, where she’ll protect leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) as they lay their eggs on beaches across South and Central America. As part of her master’s-degree programme at Purdue University Fort Wayne in Indiana, she and biologist Jonah Reenders, a volunteer on the project, spent nearly half a year living in tents on Bioko Island in Equatorial Guinea. In November 2016, two months in, Reenders snapped this picture of her measuring the pH, conductivity and temperature of sand near a leatherback’s nest just after it laid its eggs. “Five months. Livin’ in a tent,” Veelenturf says. “We ate powdered baby food for breakfast every day.”

This year’s #ScientistAtWork contest — our second — garnered about 330 entries from around the world. We saw scientists treating disease in West Africa, engineering crops in Australia and tracking the habits of cave bacteria in central Europe. Winning entries were selected by Nature art editors on the basis of visual impact. Winners will receive a year’s personal subscription to Nature.

Scientists devote endless time and energy over the course of their careers to answering certain questions or solving specific problems. Veelenturf’s goal is to counter the fall in turtle birth rate — often attributed to climate change — worldwide. “I want to spend my life preserving turtle habitats,” she says.

Explore the other winning images and runners-up below.


Panoramic view of an aurora and the Milky Way

Credit: Hang Li

Space from the Antarctic. A panorama of the night sky from Zhongshan Station in Antarctica shot by geodesist Hang Li of China’s Wuhan University in Hubei. For two months of polar night, Li lived in darkness, cold and isolation. Submitted by Hang Li.

Two men and a boat hanging from rope on a cliff face

Credit: Michael Bird

Into the sinkhole. Ecologist Mick Brand and meteorologist Costijn Zwart of James Cook University in Townsville, Australia, abseil a boat into a 40-metre sinkhole in Arnhem Land to investigate the area’s geological record. Submitted by Michael Bird.

Researchers working in multi-coloured salt plains

Credit: Maria De Craen

Salt plains. Microbiologist Hugo Moors and geologist Mieke De Craen with the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre in Mol take samples from the volcanic salt plains of northern Ethiopia, one of the most extreme environments on Earth. Water here has seven to ten times the salt content of the sea, and so can be heated to temperatures above 100 °C. Their sample was more acidic than the solutions in many car batteries. Submitted by Hugo Moors.

Man looking through a lens

Credit: Bogdan Dereka

Glasses. Joseph Beckwith, an ultrafast photochemist at the University of Geneva in Switzerland and a colleague of Bogdan Dereka, who took this photo, arranges equipment designed to manipulate laser light. Submitted by Bogdan Dereka.

Man making a speech to a crowd

Credit: Nelson W. Armour

Speaking up for science. Entrepreneur Garry Cooper speaks at a March for Science event last year. Cooper hopes this picture reflects his message: scientists don’t all look alike, and that’s a good thing. The march was repeated this month. Submitted by Garry Cooper.

Drilling for ice cores

Credit: Ana Lyons

Drilling ice cores. Junior scientists heave up an ice-core sample near McMurdo Station in Antarctica. The blinding sun is deceptive, says photographer and biologist Ana Lyons of the University of California, Berkeley — it’s cold. Submitted by Ana Lyons.


Researchers in a small boat in the Antarctic

Credit: Kharis Schrage

Crossbow biopsy. Marine biologists Greg Larsen of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and Ross Nichols of the University of California, Santa Cruz, chase a Minke whale (Balaenoptera bonaerensis) in the shadow of Mount William in Antarctic waters in March 2018. They obtained a crossbow biopsy — a sample of blubber and skin that can be used to track health in whale populations. Submitted by Greg Larsen.

Man trying to dig a 4x4 out of a puddle

Credit: Luke Jeffrey

Digging up a 4x4. Ashly McMahon, an ecologist at Southern Cross University in Lismore, Australia, tries to free his car from wetlands in April 2015 at Cudgen Nature Reserve. Photographer Luke Jeffrey, also at Southern Cross, says he helped — after he secured a picture. Submitted by Luke Jeffrey.

Woman holding antenna in mountains

Credit: Lauren Koenig

Rocky Mountains’ radio signals. Ecologist Hae Yeong Ryu of Stony Brook University in New York keeps track of ground-squirrel populations in July 2014 on Gothic Mountain, Colorado — about 600 metres above the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory. A colleague, behavioural ecologist Lauren Koenig, snapped this photo. Submitted by Lauren Koenig.

Ghostly exposure in a lab

Credit: Meredith Course

Ghost-exposure protocol. A long exposure captures neuroscience postdoc Meredith Course in her lab at the University of Washington in Seattle in March 2018. She set the camera up to film and started working on an RNA protocol. The camera saw only the high-contrast object in motion — her lab coat. But “science is not done by ghosts”, she says. “It is done by real humans who work hard, every day.” Submitted by Meredith Course.

Nature 556, 525-527 (2018)


Updates & Corrections

  • Correction 17 May 2018: An earlier version of this feature erred in its description of the winning photo.


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