In the eye of the beholder (human retina)

The retina is the light-sensitive layer of tissue inside our eyes. At the top we see the axons going to the optic nerve, to the right of the image. The photoreceptor cells are supported by the pigmented epithelium: the rods (black and white and dim-light vision), and the cones (colour and day-time vision).

Liquid tissue

The blood: our liquid tissue. Red cells, white cells and platelets. Bathing in rich plasma, full of gases, nutrients, waste products, chemical signals and messengers. But our blood can also be just the place to invade and reproduce, with devastating results.

On the beat – cardiac muscle

Cardiac muscle at close quarters. The fibres are both organized and slightly random, giving the impression of a synchronized but not symmetrical formation. Mitochondria are there, and so are blood vessels, squeezed between the fibres with no spare room for anything else. Nucleus are red, centres of command.

The force is with you – Skeletal muscle

This is the type of muscle attached to bones and tendons, the ones that move your limbs. The voluntary muscle, the one that does your bidding. It is striated, made of long and thing fibres that create wonderful patterns. Regular patterns that suggest regular movements. Most of my muscles images take a hint of inspiration from Gustav Klimt.

Vessels or the light in the tunnel

The muscular wall of the artery, surrounded by a rich adventitia creates a sunny centre – but we know is it really a hole. The floppy vein and the lymphatic drainage system complete the treasure cove. Only the nerve seems not to be made of gold.

The thinking neurons

In the dawn of the 20th century, Cajal drew the first observed neurones as black shapes. They may as well have been called black boxes, as we knew so little about them. I paint them here full of colour, as little rising suns, not because we know them that well: because we know how much mystery, promise and wonder they held. The progressive change of colour intents to suggest waves of depolarization.

Thinking together

Thinking together is yet a different version of neurones. Here, a cluster of brain cells lights up with activity around an idea. Both neurones and the small support cells surrounding them are colour-hot with activity. A pulsating wave of blue thought comes out of the interaction and irregularly radiates out into the surrounding tissue. It is the mix and the interplay that produces the Eureka moment.

In the Blood

Blood. Red cells, white cells and platelets, liquid life. But our blood can also be just the place to invade and reproduce, with devastating results.

This work was created for the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition (2013) and was presented in a light box. With the light off you see healthy blood. When you switch on the light, you can see the ring-form trophozoites of Plasmodium falciparum. This is the parasite that causes malaria, a leading cause of disease and death in many places in Africa and elsewhere.

The Neuronal Forest

The networkers par excellence. Neurones fill our brains, with their long and numerous dendrites and axons, with support cells helping them do their work. The patterns and synaptic connections get reinforced and lost, and when neurones die, the capabilities of the mind decline, until we succumb to neurodegenerative diseases like dementia.

Deep Breath

The respiratory tissue is mainly air. The lungs are made of lots of very small alveoli, spaces where the air and blood exchange gases. A few alveolar macrophages lie waiting, ready to jump into action to destroy foreign bodies and infection at the very port of entry.