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Cancer Under the Microscope – Exhibition Displays Competition Images of Disease


HeLa cells treated with an actin depolymerizing drug and stained for DNA (blue), tubulin (red) and actin (green)

GE Healthcare’s 2012 Cell Imaging Competition, which represents cancer as seen through its cell imaging technologies, is the subject of a new exhibition celebrating the confluence of art, science, and discovery.

The exhibition: ‘The Petri Series: Benzene,’ is hosted by Maria Michails, and is the first installation in a series that incorporates imagery and contexts specifically derived from scientific research. As well as exploring the impact of petrochemicals on human and environmental health, the exhibition also examines the phenomenon of artists crossing into the sciences. The exhibition also explores the creative aspect of the staining, prepping, and imaging of microscopic specimens.

Unique to this exhibition is the degree of participant interactivity where visitors can become part of a photo-sculptural installation. Here, microscopic images of cancer cells have been printed and mounted on circular-shaped forms of glass, which are then embedded onto cell culture dishes that sit in stainless steel forms in the shape of benzene molecules.

“When the participant sits in the mechanism, which is in the form of a car, and begins to pedal they light up the cell images. The visitor is essential in the completion of the work as they are the component that brings the installation to life,” said Michails.

Michails, who is the 2012-2013 Stephen L. Barstow Artist-in-Residence for the Department of Art & Design at the University of Michigan, said of her exhibition: “As the opportunities for more Art-Sci collaborations become common, we will see a greater appreciation for this type of art. It's not only for the advancement of aesthetics but rather, for me anyway, it is a meaningful and direct way to communicate about the biological world around us.” 

“I had already started thinking about the project in 2010 when I saw the images,” explained Michails. During my time at Central Michigan University and the recent passing of a friend from cancer I decided to move ahead with it.” 

“Initially, I had hoped that I could prepare, stain and image my own samples as I was taking a class on confocal microscopy. I realized that there was no way I could do this in a six-week time frame so I needed to reach out to scientists. That's when I contacted GE Healthcare again, as I had loved the images submitted to the GE contest.”

GE Healthcare’s cell imaging competition is an annual event that showcases the beauty of cells and the research conducted by cellular biologists worldwide. In 2012, the competition attracted over 100 entries from researchers who are investigating at the cellular level conditions such as cancer.

In 2012, GE Healthcare’s commitment to tackling the increasing rates of cancer worldwide resulted in the launch of a new campaign. The campaign sought to stress the importance of healthy eating and doing regular exercise to lower the chances of getting cancer, and for survivors, of the disease reappearing.

The exhibition takes place from Friday, April 19, 2013, at the Central Michigan University Art Gallery: West Gallery. The exhibition, which runs till May 4, is free and open to the public. More information can be found at Maria can be contacted at


Maria Michails explores the creative aspect of the staining, prepping, and imaging of microscopic specimens.


The exhibition features a photo-sculptural installation that allows the visitor to interact as a component to bring the installation to life.