The Art of Research

URI Research and Scholarship Photo Contest 2024: Winning Images

Entries in the University of Rhode Island’s seventh annual Research and Scholarship Photo Contest included everything from underwater photographs and photos of birds and insects to AI-generated illustrations and microscopy images of neurons and muscle tissue. The images showcase the breadth of work in which URI scholars are immersed.

This annual contest offers students, faculty, and staff an opportunity to share creative perspectives of their work in any area of URI research and scholarship. Images from laboratories to libraries to the depths of the ocean and beyond have streamed in over the years and been featured in the three URI magazines sponsoring this contest—the University of Rhode Island Magazine; the URI Division of Research and Economic Development magazine Momentum: Research & Innovation; and the Rhode Island Sea Grant/URI Coastal Institute magazine 41°N: Rhode Island’s Ocean and Coastal Magazine.

The winners are:

First Place

“Eastern Whip-poor-will and Chick”
Megan Gray ’17, graduate student in natural resources science
Hometown: Ashaway, R.I.

This photo of a female Eastern whip-poor-will brooding her young chick drew unanimous praise from the judges. One judge commented, “A perfect example of maternal instinct in nature. Contrasting colors of mother and chick work well in this composition.” Another said, “Eye contact from both mom and chick make this an intriguing photograph.”

“Eastern whip-poor-wills, Gray explains, “lay two eggs directly on the ground, relying on their cryptic camouflage to blend into leaf litter to avoid predation. These birds are nocturnal aerial insectivores. The male and female share incubation and provisioning duties.”  She adds, “This is likely one of the only photos ever taken of an Eastern whip-poor-will brooding her chick.”

Gray’s master’s research focuses on the nesting ecology of two successional nesting species related to whip-poor-wills: Eastern towhees and prairie warblers. She visited whip-poor-will nests being monitored by her fellow master’s student, Liam Corcoran. She says, “Little is known about the nesting phase of this cryptic and understudied species … and they have declined heavily through their range [due to] loss of breeding habitat and reduction in flying insects.”

Second Place

“A Future Fish”
Michael Corso ’24, aquaculture and fisheries science
Hometown: Medford, Mass.

This photo of a mahi-mahi was taken at the aquaculture research facilities at URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography (GSO). The judges were impressed by the unique light and drama of the photo. One judge said, “This picture uses color and chiaroscuro dramatically and creates a very effective atmosphere.” Another commented, “The approach of this fish combined with such dramatic lighting totally makes this a winner.”

Corso’s research has focused on creating and implementing a new feed-weaning protocol to enhance the early survival of mahi-mahi larvae, research that is ultimately aimed at creating a sustainable alternative to wild-caught seafood. He says, “With many marine pelagic species being overfished to feed the growing human population, aquaculture initiatives are beginning to overtake wild fisheries in terms of global consumption. The advanced aquaculture research being done at GSO aims to ensure that culture methods for species with commercial potential, like mahi-mahi, are fully developed, allowing for future sustainable production.” Corso is grateful to Terence M. Bradley, URI professor of aquaculture and fisheries, for allowing him to use his lab for this research.

Third Place

“Boiler Reef”
Anya Hanson, director, URI Research Diving and Safety Program
Hometown: Wakefield, R.I.

URI’s diving safety officer Anya Hanson captured this image while on a faculty-led program for AFS/ART 395- Underwater Photography and Film. Hanson says, “Students have the opportunity to learn advanced scuba diving techniques and acquire imagery in diverse environments from New England to the tropical-like waters of Bermuda,” where she took this photo. She adds, “The boiler reefs of Bermuda are named after the appearance of turbulent and boiling seawater. In this photo, a student descends next to a large boiler to explore, despite choppy conditions and surging water movement.”

The judges noted the composition and technical skills on display in this photo. One said, “Great underwater photograph of a diver, showing the contrasting deep blues and whitewater from the breaking waves above.” Another commented, “This picture nicely portrays the contrast between the human figure and the beautiful ocean environment, which is emphasized by the natural texture.”

Honorable Mention

“Nighttime in Neuron City”
Riccardo Sirtori, postdoctoral fellow, George & Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience
Hometown: Vedano al Lambro, Lombardy, Italy

This microscopy image shows a neurofilament immunofluorescence staining of a motor neuron culture derived from induced pluripotent stem cells. Sirtori explains, “The green color marks the cytoskeleton of the neurons, allowing us to see their shape. Neurons are grouped in big clusters, and their neurites (long branches) connect those clusters.” Sirtori says the Fallini Lab at the Ryan Institute is focused on “understanding pathogenic mechanisms behind amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.” He adds, “To this end, we use stem cell-derived neurons to model in vitro the neurodegenerative process occurring in the brains of patients.”

The judges were impressed by the clarity and composition of the image. “This image portrays a gorgeous web of complex connections underlying such a horrific disease,” said one. Another commented, “This is an interesting abstract composition generated by an attractive structural grid.”

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