Can design communicate how tissues and cells are connected and arranged in our body?
For the NOBELini Awards, scientist Marta Archanco and designer Solenne Morigeaud unified their skills to develop a project entitled “Nature hates emptiness”.Their design consists of an antique window glazed with etched glass, and three-layer wooden interior, perforated shutters that would inform us on the infinity of our body.
Once upon a time, the world of the invisible
“Nature hates emptiness” is a window that shows and simplifies what we see when we look at a tissue under a microscope. It is communicating an area of science called histology, which is the branch of anatomy that studies the microscopic structure of organic tissues. Just as a microscope goes deeper and deeper in the tissue, this window and its shutters discloses layer per layer what is happening in our cells. This window helps us to understand our body. It also informs us of our unconscious and hidden life that is happening under our skin, at the cell level.
To explain how our body cells are arranged, we analyzed the scientist’s PhD and postdoctoral projects, and summarized it into principles, in order to keep the essence of her role: “The appreciation of body tissue patterns and study of how they evolve and change due to a myriad of cellular networks”.
Marta Archanco works as a researcher in the Endocrinology field since 2000 but she considers herself mainly a microscopist, as analyzing tissues is taking most of her time. The microscope is the definitive scientist’s tool to study tissue patterns, and localise proteins or genes in a cellular level.
Here are some examples of cells and tissue micrographs from both light and electron microscopy, using different laboratory techniques such as staining, immunohistochemistry (IHC) or in situ hybridization (ISH)
taken from Marta Archanco’s Phd among other sources:
Showing and explaining the hidden
Our window shutter works as an objective, which is the lens or mirror in a microscope. It is responsible for primary image formation and plays a central role in determining the quality of images that the microscope (window) is capable of producing. The objective (shutters) is the first component that light encounters as it proceeds from the specimen to the image plane.
As a microscope to the world, our window will allow us to look at disclosed elements layer per layer. Look at the shutters from afar and you will only see their perforated patterns. Look through the perforations and you will see the landscape behind. We chose to perforate an opaque material because it was a way to bring transparency to something that is not. Cells are hidden under our skin, and also, because of their scale. By perforating wood we bring light, we disclose the cell world.
The first shutter is inspired by a secondary antral follicle (almost Graff Follicle) of the ovary stained by haematoxylin and eosin and visualised under a light microscope (source: Marta Archanco’s thesis 2005). The idea for the second shutter comes from a light micrograph of the thyroid gland stained with hematoxylin-eosine (source: Hubpages Inc.). The histology of trabecular bone in non-functioning pancreatic endocrine tumour captured by light microscopy inspired our third shutter (source: BrighamRAD Teaching Case Database).
Each panel of our three-layer wooden interior, perforated shutters has an incidence on the layer that is behind. The way the light will be filtered will be different if some panels are left opened, and will disclose
different light connections.
Because cells are all connected with each other, our shutters are referring to constellations. A constellation exists only because of a star connexion. Stars create a unity all together. The shutters’ shadows represent that.
The glass will symbolize the deepest and most mysterious part of ourselves. We decided to etch glass to communicate that tissues have no colours as they need to be stained to become visible. The ghostly effect of the etched glass illustrates that. The pattern is inspired once again by the scientist’s imagery.
As a non-scientific person would do, the first reaction of the designer when she saw the scientist’s images was to think of “What does it look like?” It seemed indeed that many similarities could be found between tissues patterns and daily situations or objects. Using everyday known objects or metaphors to explain a complicated concept is very effective and has been widely used in science. In nature we can always find pictures that naturally match microscopic images. This is another way to understand how cells adapt and arrange to each other and to the environment.
1. 2. Purkinje cell from the cerebellum with Golgi method dr aw by Santiago Ramon y Cajal in 1899 vs “Two Trees” picture from Mark Evan Thomas (1960-2006). 3. 4 Computer-coloured SEM Scanning electron micrograph of old osteoporotic bone vs sponge image both from the Wellcome Image collection.
As we were trying to find a known example to explain the scientist’s imagery, we realised that foam on the surface of water creates connections just like the picture showing adipose tissues. That is what inspired us to create the etched pattern on the glass.
Light microscopy of visceral white adipose tissue (a) and interscapular brown adipose tissue (b) stained with haematoxylin and eosin and shown by light microscopy. (Source: Trends in Cell Biology Vol.19 No.4, pages 141-146, 2009), and Foam ( 2009), by Solenne Morigeaud.
Micrographs are showing us that cells hate emptiness. Cells associate themselves to form tissues, which in turn associate themselves to form organs. Cells communicate with the environment. Cell communication is made through small molecules that can only, and not always, be seen under the microscope. This is called cell signalling.
We believe that our window is appropriated to communicate what the principle of microscopy is and to describe how cells and tissues are arranged and connected. The whole window will symbolize the unknown part of life, both existing in the infinitely big (constellations), and in the infinitely small (cells). As the shutters will disclose different light connections, it will be a poetic way of understanding our body and our social relations: Living independently, all having our own functions but being part of a complicated network.
Open and close the shutters as you wish,
See the big
And the small…
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