About this Author
DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

Chemistry and Drug Data: Drugbank
Chempedia Lab
Synthetic Pages
Organic Chemistry Portal
Not Voodoo

Chemistry and Pharma Blogs:
Org Prep Daily
The Haystack
A New Merck, Reviewed
Liberal Arts Chemistry
Electron Pusher
All Things Metathesis
C&E News Blogs
Chemiotics II
Chemical Space
Noel O'Blog
In Vivo Blog
Terra Sigilatta
BBSRC/Douglas Kell
Realizations in Biostatistics
ChemSpider Blog
Organic Chem - Education & Industry
Pharma Strategy Blog
No Name No Slogan
Practical Fragments
The Curious Wavefunction
Natural Product Man
Fragment Literature
Chemistry World Blog
Synthetic Nature
Chemistry Blog
Synthesizing Ideas
Eye on FDA
Chemical Forums
Symyx Blog
Sceptical Chymist
Lamentations on Chemistry
Computational Organic Chemistry
Mining Drugs
Henry Rzepa

Science Blogs and News:
Bad Science
The Loom
Uncertain Principles
Fierce Biotech
Blogs for Industry
Omics! Omics!
Young Female Scientist
Notional Slurry
Nobel Intent
SciTech Daily
Science Blog
Gene Expression (I)
Gene Expression (II)
Adventures in Ethics and Science
Transterrestrial Musings
Slashdot Science
Cosmic Variance
Biology News Net

Medical Blogs
DB's Medical Rants
Science-Based Medicine
Respectful Insolence
Diabetes Mine

Economics and Business
Marginal Revolution
The Volokh Conspiracy
Knowledge Problem

Politics / Current Events
Virginia Postrel
Belmont Club
Mickey Kaus

Belles Lettres
Uncouth Reflections
Arts and Letters Daily
In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

In the Pipeline

« More Statin Skirmishing | Main | Down the Chute: Your Call »

July 7, 2006

Memo to the Public Relations Department

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

After seeing a recent in-house promotional brochure, I'd like to issue a brief request on behalf of my fellow researchers. This is addressed to all professional photographers: please, no more colored spotlights.

I know that you see this as a deficiency, but scientists do not work with purple radiance coming from the walls behind them. Not if we can help it, we don't, and if we notice that sort of thing going on, we head for the exits. In the same manner, our instruments do not, regrettably, emit orange glows that light our faces up from beneath, not for the most part, and if they start doing that we generally don't bend closer so as to emphasize the thoughtful contours of our faces. When we hold up Erlenmeyer flasks to eye level to see the future of research in them, which we try not to do too often because we usually don't want to know, rarely is this accompanied by an eerie red light coming from the general direction of our pockets. It's a bad sign when that happens, actually.

I know that your photos have lots more zing and pop the way you do them. And I'm sorry, for you and for the art department, that our labs are all well lit (with boring old fluorescent lights, yet), and that we all wear plain white lab coats (which tend to take over the picture), and that our instrument housings are mostly beige and blue and white. It would be a lot easier on you guys if these things weren't so.

But that's how it is. And when you get right down to it, you're actually doing us a disservice by trying to pretend that there's all sorts of dramatic stuff going on, that discoveries are happening every single minute of the day and that they're accompanied by dawn-of-a-new-era lighting and sound effects. We'd rather that people didn't get those ideas, because the really big discoveries aren't like that at all. It doesn't make for much of a cover shot, but if one of us ever does manage to change the world, it'll start with a puzzled glance at a computer screen, or a raised eyebrow while looking at a piece of paper. Instead of getting noisier, everything will get a lot quieter. And if there are any purple spotlights to be seen, we won't even notice them. . .

Update: A follow-up post is here, written after several comments by photographers came in. . .

Comments (79) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Life in the Drug Labs


1. RKN on July 7, 2006 8:34 AM writes...

What - your science doesn't glow? Mine does - red, green, and blue! To boot, this morning I'm applying a deep purple stain. We're all about radiant color in proteomics. :-)

Permalink to Comment

2. Carol on July 7, 2006 9:22 AM writes...

CSI fallout. You have Jerry Bruckheimer to thank. Now viewers believe that all crime scenes are entered with the lights off and the flashlight on.

Permalink to Comment

3. Atompusher on July 7, 2006 9:28 AM writes...

So I should take the disco ball and strobe light out of my hood?

Permalink to Comment

4. The Disgruntled Chemist on July 7, 2006 10:05 AM writes...

My science glows too - it's one of the joys of atmospheric pressure plasmas. I definitely don't tend to bend in close to it, though...I like my eyebrows just the way they are.

Permalink to Comment

5. milo on July 7, 2006 10:18 AM writes...


No leave them in. I find they are good for the "joyous jig" I do when a reaction works well...

Permalink to Comment

6. MicroLabMark on July 7, 2006 10:43 AM writes...

Reminds me of the story about a photographer shooting Jonas Salk in his lab while examining a rack of tubes. The photographer kept making Salk tip the rack until it was at a very precarious angle. Apparently, this was to make Salk appear to be deep in thought about some tissue cultures of active polio virus.

As the rack continued to rotate, some tubes fell out and broke open on the floor. Salk stopped doing staged publicity photos after that incident.

Permalink to Comment

7. Marc on July 7, 2006 12:14 PM writes...

That Erlenmeyer you hold up to eye level to see the future of science, is it 3/4 full of water and food coloring by any chance ? Did you remember to put a bit of dry ice in it ?

Permalink to Comment

8. Still Scred of Dinosaurs on July 7, 2006 2:36 PM writes...

Nothing beats the shot used in TV profiles to indicate we're dealing with a smart person. You know the one where they're sitting at a computer but not actually interacting with it? Instead, they are reading something on a piece of paper.
I guess if you can read your documents away from the computer it indicates you don't have much going on in your life.

Permalink to Comment

9. Anonymous on July 7, 2006 2:59 PM writes...

Actually I do remember one of those photo-op situations when I did a summer at Brookhaven Nat'l Lab back in 1981. I was measuring the response of some photosynthesis electron transport proteins extracted from spinach leaves. The spectrophotometer was kept in a darkened room, and I put samples into a chamber cooled by dry ice (so fog was coming out) and lit by a red lamp (so as not to trigger the reaction prematurely). I remember thinking that day, "I wish I had a camera!"

Permalink to Comment

10. Abel Pharmboy on July 7, 2006 3:03 PM writes...

Derek, didn't know if you saw this already but congratulations on being ranked the #16 science blogger in the world by Nature in their recently-debated, technorati-based rankings.

Permalink to Comment

11. George Laszlo on July 7, 2006 4:46 PM writes...

Never mind the colors. How can we keep the big shots from upstairs out of the lab for the photo op?

Permalink to Comment

12. Deepak on July 7, 2006 4:53 PM writes...

Back when I actually worked in a spectroscopy lab, photographers loved taking pictures of the lasers in action on top of some smoke (dry ice if I remember correctly)

Permalink to Comment

13. srp on July 7, 2006 6:33 PM writes...

I think a picture of Vial 33 with the caption "Just more gunk...or the next miracle cure?" would be appropriate.

Seriously, I don't get most corporate publicity efforts. They always think that making the organization looks good means making their work look easy, like they have everything under control. That's fine for calming people down about nuclear power plant operations, but for building good will for most things you want to emphasize the struggle and difficulty of what you do. Think "Soul of a New Machine" or "American Steel."

When people get a sense of what's challenging about your business, they respect you more, not less. After all, we admire athletes because they do difficult things on a regular basis. And that's another reason why this blog is cool.

Permalink to Comment

14. Novice Chemist on July 7, 2006 7:41 PM writes...

While we're at it, what about all those photos and videos that show ancient PIs in lab coats in the lab or performing experiments? You know they haven't set foot in the lab in years!

Permalink to Comment

15. secret milkshake on July 7, 2006 8:49 PM writes...

For the photo-op: don't forget to put some deep-blue solution into the receiver flask of your rotavap, and put on welding-grade gogles, if you want to prove that you are a holywood-grade scientist.

Permalink to Comment

16. Jim Hu on July 8, 2006 4:30 PM writes...

LOL! I remember being told of a documentary that was made in the late 1960s or early 1970s about the groups competing to find the repressors from lac and λ at Harvard. The film crews were apparently disappointed that the solutions on the benches were all clear, so they came in and replaced them all with bottles of colored water for the filming. One of my profs at Wisconsin was in the lab at the time.

Permalink to Comment

17. Kyle Finchsigmate on July 9, 2006 2:24 AM writes...

Listen Derek, if you knew what was good for you, you would be less concerned about why our scientists are glowing in advertising pamphlets and more concerned as to why they don't glow in real life.

Permalink to Comment

18. Tracy W on July 9, 2006 5:27 PM writes...

Look out - if you start giving advice to photographers about how to do photography, they might start giving advice to you about how to do science.

"no, no, no, it may be true, but it's not beautiful."

Permalink to Comment

19. John Salmon on July 9, 2006 7:36 PM writes...

Hmm...thought it was Derek Lowe, Dodgers' pitcher. He loves the limelight and the spotlight. Far more character than your typical academic type.

Permalink to Comment

20. Jimbo on July 9, 2006 7:56 PM writes...

How about a picture of the CEO wearing heavy makeup? Fred Hassan (ex-Pharmacia, now SGP) comes to mind :-)

Permalink to Comment

21. Jal-Frezi on July 10, 2006 3:55 AM writes...

Recent promotional video shot in our lab - real, brown, uninteresting reaction shoved to back of hood out of shot. Fake permanganate and dry ice reaction at front in full view.

At least the chemistry bit had real chemists in it, every other section had a rarely-seen senior manager in a pristine lab coat standing over a lab monkey looking interested and important.

Permalink to Comment

22. bcpmoon on July 10, 2006 4:14 AM writes...

Yes Yes Yes

I wonder if the layman really thinks that these photos show real labs. Perhaps the photos even contribute to the bad image of science, since they fit to the mad scientist image. OK, real labs are, well, not so glitzy, but they are for working, aren´t they?
To watch any of the multiple forensics police work shows is a real pain for the lab practices shown. No hoods, no lab coats, insufficient lighting, etc. pp.
But my favourite is in fact "Hollow Man", this I watch whenever it is on: Bad movie, bad story and the most ridiculous lab ever seen on the big screen.

Permalink to Comment

23. Lou on July 10, 2006 4:25 AM writes...

If you ever see a person working in a tissue culture hood, and they are pipetting some pink liquid into a culture dish - the cells won't survive that. Phenol Red in the culture medium turning pink means alkaline media - cells die. Not good for us. Good for tv crews, and often used in news footage.
Had that one happen in my previous lab. The technician, who's hand was shown in the shot, and myself had a good laugh about it later.

Permalink to Comment

24. Kent on July 10, 2006 8:50 AM writes...

In my line of work, the PR people want to photograph us standing among the racks of the supercomputer, as if we routinely toggle programs directly into the motherboard of the root node. In machine language.

In reality, I type my programs into the Dell sitting on my desk in my quite ordinary office, using very generic Linux software that you can get at Walmart for $49.95, and then send it to the big computing iron over our LAN. I get to actually [i]see[/i] the supercomputer maybe once a year, and only because I volunteer to escort the local high school students on the annual tour.

Permalink to Comment

25. tom bartlett on July 10, 2006 8:51 AM writes...

"While we're at it, what about all those photos and videos that show ancient PIs in lab coats in the lab or performing experiments?"

I thought all publicity shots required the cutest asian woman you could round up.

Permalink to Comment

26. Phil-Z on July 10, 2006 12:57 PM writes...

About 15 years ago I made it into the annual report of the large New England Pharma Company. I was running a sector mass spec at the time and the gleaming stainless steel source chamber with protruding air lock looked ever so much like some kind of high tech artillery piece and was qute popular with our PR department. The shot that made the report had me crouched in front of the source, backlit with blue.

The shot was so popular it made it into at least one collection of stock photos. OTOH I thought it looked like I should be asking K-9 for the "Illudium PU-36" space modulator.

Permalink to Comment

27. Mike on July 10, 2006 4:40 PM writes...

Derek -- I see that you're taking your own monochromatic advice ... by using a black-and-white photo on this site. Not a gel in sight.

One of the earliest and most creative and successful gel-meister in high-tech photography was Roger Ressmeyer ( He's a delight to work with.

Also, for Deepak, the best way to shoot lasers in the open air is not using smoke or vapor, which makes it virtually impossible to control the intensity, uniformity or duration of the laser light that the camera sees. Rather, in a darkened room with the camera shutter open, trace the laser beam with a white card (or if the laser intensity high enought to cause the card itself to glow beyond the beam diameter, use a dark or even black card). Beam paths across the camera's field of view require more tracing (exposure) than those that are more radial w.r.t the camera's view. Beams invisible to the human eye (such as ultraviolet) may also be traced by using a fluorescent card (typically used for laser safety beam tracing) or, for imaging the infrared light from high-power carbon dioxide lasers, a carbon block. In my role as a high-tech PR person/science writer, I've produced many photos involving lasers. One of my favorites involved matching the intensity of the laser with the fluorescence it caused as it passed through a chemical in a handheld test tube.

BTW, our safety people insisted that the scientists in the photo had to wear their laser-safety goggles. In at least one case, the head of a scientist who also wore rather thick regular glasses looked like a bug-eyed insect, as a result.

Permalink to Comment

28. Dan on July 10, 2006 6:20 PM writes...

You experimentalists have all the fun. Try taking interesting photos of theoretical physicists. We can't all look like Einstein, some of us have regular haircuts and don't poke our tongues out;-).

In my other life, I'm also a photographer but prefer other subjects than my scientific colleagues:-).

Permalink to Comment

29. Anonymous on July 11, 2006 1:43 AM writes...

Well you had better be pictures in monochrome then...

Permalink to Comment

30. Doctor Curmudgeon on July 11, 2006 4:45 AM writes...

At the Curmudgeonly Institute, all of our photos are boring.

Permalink to Comment

31. symball on July 11, 2006 4:47 AM writes...

If you want to keep the big wigs away you need to resort to sabotage. A few years ago a television news company came to do a piece about one of our projects and we were hijacked by our CSO who hadn't done any 'real' work for at least ten years. We had provided some petri dishes for him to study intensely, unfortunately he didn't pay much attention to the colonies that were on it.

Cue him on the news staring at a crudely drawn phallus of E. coli!

Permalink to Comment

32. Brian Melancon on July 11, 2006 8:30 AM writes...

Yeah, purple glows are fake. But much of photography is. Supermodels don't really have flawless skin. The lighting isn't always perfect. Water droplets don't suspend themselves in mid air. People don't sit around in close groups wearing nice clothes with a painted cloth behind them while they all smile and look in the same direction.

Science is about accurately representing data.

Photography is about making in interesting image.

Permalink to Comment

33. Derek Lowe on July 11, 2006 9:48 AM writes...

Brian, it's not the fact that they're fake that gets me so much; it's that they're laughable. A cleaned-up lab bench is fakery enough, considering the conditions we usually work in. The two-scientists-thoughtfully-looking-at-the-latest-results shot is fakery, but has at least some relationship to reality.

But the purple, green, and orange gels are downright silly. Worse, from a photographer's standpoint, they're trite.

Permalink to Comment

34. SpacePhotog on July 11, 2006 10:03 AM writes...

Oh brother, you have got to be kidding. You want photographers to show researchers in their real work environment? Let me tell you what I see from the outside looking in. I enter a cramped room poorly lit by fluorescent lights. Do you know what this green light does to the complexion of a lab tech who rarely sees the light of day? Then there are the rolls of toilet paper and post-it notes that have to be removed from the scene. Next you have to hunt down a lab coat that does not have a logo from previous employers or projects. Do you know how hard it is to remove glare from coke bottle glasses?

Photos help create interest in your work. Adding a little Hollywood glitz is the price you pay if you want to continue getting paid.

Permalink to Comment

35. Chris on July 11, 2006 10:40 AM writes...

I always notice on TV that even physicists, whose normal clothing is in the jeans or khakis range, are dressed up in lab coats. Are they afraid to get atoms on themselves?

Permalink to Comment

36. Mantra on July 11, 2006 11:56 AM writes...

I worked for HP during the early years of the web and had to try to get product photos for each and every product to create product web pages. There were numerous problems the occurred but one of the most irritating was cases like the HP 33401A multimeter wrapped in bubble wrap and spotted with green and purple lights - so that it would be "artistic". And those were the *ONLY* product photo shots that existed.

Never mind that 90% of the visuals that photo series represented could be trivially duplicated from a clean, well done industrial photo series using Photoshop (available in the mid 90s).

In additional to killing the spots, also add to that:

1. Hire an industrial photographer who knows that type of photography - neither the family portrait guy down the street nor the art student from the local college are likely have a clue!

2. Make sure there are no shadows on the subject (that includes knobs and buttons in my case). Shadows can always be Photoshopped in!!

3. Photograph the subject on a neutral or better blue/green screen backdrop. This allows any background to be added in easily by Photoshop!

4. Take a series of photographs: for box-like things that should include frontal with no perspective view of rear, quarter-view left and right, rear-view if the back of the box has *anything* important or user accessible. This is only the minimum. Only after you have the basics do anything arty. And don't be suprised if I refuse to pay for the stuff that doesn't address the utilitarian needs of my company communicating to my customer to create sales.

In general though, there are *NO* *commercial* shots that can't be done better in Photoshop from good, basic industrial photography.

Sorry, it's the simple truth. If it hurts those sensitive artist souls, they should remember I'm paying and the moment they took the money they stopped being a free-spirit with complete artistic license and instead became obligated to provide service as I contracted with them.

Permalink to Comment

37. A View From The Other Side on July 11, 2006 12:03 PM writes...

Point well taken.

As a photographer, I would only note that my colleagues and I simply may have been trying to make the pictures interesting enough to bring *more* people in to read the stories. Which, of course, is where they would learn about what you were actually doing.

The profile of scientists is far too high as it is, I think. I doubt you can safely walk the streets in anonymity these days. The last thing you guys need is more visibility, what with all of the unsolicited, excess grant money rolling in. I mean, how can a scientist burn through that kind of green with just 24 hours in a day?

What the world needs is *more* photographers focusing relentlessly on the minutae of vapid celebrities. After all, they are the role models we should promote to the next generation.

Amazingly in the 21st century, some photographers are still trying to increase the interest and visibility levels of science.

What a waste.

Thanks for the heads up. I will spread the word to my colleagues.

Permalink to Comment

38. Cookie on July 11, 2006 12:19 PM writes...


Without fancy razzamatazz, how is a scientist supposed to get any play in this day and age?

BTW, could I get a touch-up on my brow, here?

Permalink to Comment

39. Hap on July 11, 2006 12:53 PM writes...

Other Side,

If you think that purple and orange lights around labs are going to raise the social status and cash flow of science, you have been breathing too much developer. Photographing things to make them pretty in order to increase the popularity of what is pictured only works when you don't obscure the nature of what you are photographing. There are ways to do photography around science that don't distort the underlying science (for example, F.Frankel - my advisor worked with her), so there isn't all that much excuse for doing otherwise. Making things pretty in unrealistic ways to attract people to science is like writing a check with insufficient funds - if it works, there will be many disappointed people whose disillusionment will only worsen rather than enhance the status of science in society. One could argue that unrealistic expectations and lack of understanding of what science can and can't do is a major part of its diminished societal status (along with dishonesty, which is mixed in here too).

Of course, the main purpose for these pictures is to attract people to buy stuff from the company whose products are pictured. The people for whom the lighting is an effective incentive to buy products are people who likely need a generous dose of disillusionment, because they are unlikely to understand what the people in the pictures are doing or what the pictured company's products can actually do. The people who do know what the pictured products do probably go, "what the &^*&?" and ignore the pretty lighting. Since the former people have, and spend, the purchasing company's money, it is important to make the pictures pretty, but the lack of understanding isn't going to help later when they wonder why their new equipment hasn't brought the miracles they expected.

If society is too fixated on its fantasies to appropriate devote resources and attention to what does it the most good, more fantasy does not seem to be an appropriate solution to the problem.

Permalink to Comment

40. V(CO)6 on July 11, 2006 8:06 PM writes...

Hi Derek:

Your comment seems to be based on the assumption that PR material should reflect reality. Hmmm..
In defense of the photographers: they are understandably more concerned with producing photographs that will please the person who is paying their fee rather than portray an accurate view of research life (not many photo op’s there!). Additionlly, the photographers are probably over influenced by fashion and advertising photography. Take a look in Vogue sometime and be happy you’re not asked to appear like that - black lipstick, spiky hair and way too thin. My apologies if you, or any reader, fits that description.

Next time suggest a photo of someone checking a TLC plate with a uv lamp (and make sure there are a lot of optical brighteners in the clothes), that should satisfy even the most colored-light-crazed photographer.

Permalink to Comment

41. daq on July 12, 2006 12:47 AM writes...

While we're at it, all college viewbooks should show students as they really are: messy, unkempt, wearing yesterday's t-shirt with questionable stains, half-drunk, etc. No diverse picnics on the quad ("Thanks, Hakeem, for that exceptionally funny joke that all cultures can enjoy!") ever again.

In fact, kill all stock photography. No shaking hands with tailored cufflinks. No spacious cubicles with the newest Apple computer. No barefoot, rustic-looking men reading their newspaper while sitting on the dock of a crystal clear lake.

I understand the sentiment and completely agree that no amount of "sexy-ing up" will make science any better. But I also don't think that the majority of people who are going into science-related fields expect the pensive-looking yet mildly attractive researcher in colored test tubes. They expect a life of khaki-colored everything - and the ability to do their passion. That being said, CSI is probably the worst thing to happen to science in hiring smarter recruits, just like Law & Order is awful for better candidates to law schools.

But the lives of designers and photographers are just as unglamorous in reality, too. We don't all wear retro glasses, play foosball in our office, run around with huge storyboards and then all go out for huge martinis. We don't causually strut around the decks of yachts off the coast of Brazil, asking for more oil on our models, chatting up the beautiful people with the cameras hanging obscenely around our neck. Our lives are spents burning retinas and silently cursing the people we work for who don't understand our job is more than making something look "pretty." Just like scientists hate the people see their job as CSI, rushing around picking up hair samples and solving crime or, worse yet, only important when a breakthrough happens.

Putting up with us and our dopey requests ("Now, I need you to look perplexed... but intelligent.") for a few hours so we can make a "pretty" brochure (which our clients will still hate) is a small price to pay so you can get back to your important work.

This blog is great, by the way.

Permalink to Comment

42. mister idea on July 12, 2006 1:37 AM writes...

Just be naked during the photo shoot. Then we'll see the real truth.

Permalink to Comment

43. Jal-Frezi on July 12, 2006 6:10 AM writes...

"Cue him on the news staring at a crudely drawn phallus of E. coli!"

hehe. We managed to sneak a drawing of a certain aromatic arsenic compound onto the fumehood being filmed. We've seen the video now and if you know what you're looking for, you can just make it out.


Permalink to Comment

44. frank Monkiewicz on July 12, 2006 1:00 PM writes...

You are correct in saying that colored lights make the lab photographs more appealing even though you do not like them. Just the same as a black and white portrait taken by a professional photographer of an author (that would be you and your photograph on the page) using studio lighting makes the person and his image to the public more 'professional'.
My 2 cents-
Frank Monkiewicz
Frank Monkiewicz Photography
243 Bent St. Studio 2
Cambridge, MA 02141

Permalink to Comment

45. Derek Lowe on July 12, 2006 2:26 PM writes...

Frank M., I take your point, although it would have more force if that photo hadn't been taken by me, in my dining room, with a time-release button. I'm glad to have it mistaken for a professional job, though; maybe I should start a photoblog on the side.

Permalink to Comment

46. erik stenbakken on July 12, 2006 6:43 PM writes...

Professional photographer here throwing my 2¢ in.

I'm to leave in a few days to photograph what I'm told is one of the world's most powerful lasers -- and the people that make it work.

I could shoot the truth (pretty boring) of people sitting around computer monitors. In. Click. Out. Done. (Or perhaps suggest a self timer?)

Funny thing happened on the way to the lab… The client (a public institution) has received millions of dollars of tax money (yours and mine) to make this lab happen. They have the misguided notion that people give a rip about where their money went. They think people actually care about the research the facility is doing and were silly enough to hire someone to come in and make it look cool and interesting. Why woud they do that? For crying out loud, if we make cool pictures that capture the essence of the real science and the imagination of the taxpayer… why, they might get MORE of my tax money.

In a selfish way, I guess it would be better for me to produce pictures that suck, look bland and flat and boring accompanied by captions summing up the sub-atomic physics being researched (in fully accurate equations, of course). THAT'LL stop them from taking my money and throwing it carelessly into science. Meanwhile, over at the Hollywood ranch, they're prepping yet another modestly attractive actress for a magazine shoot for a result that is far more unreal than any fake science shot ever seen by human eyes. Who'll get the money? Who'll make the cover?

While the point is taken about colored fluids in beakers and glowing blue walls… remember that although some of the bad annual report/brochure photography is truly misguided, there's a lot of it that is done with the (misguided?) notion that making what scientists do look mildly interesting is actually an honorable thing.

Then again, if I were a "research photographer" and not a commercial one… I'd get paid for MAYBE making a photo/discovery every few years. Then I guess I wouldn't care what kind of image was out there. Until then, I'll have to keep producing results on a daily basis for those who pay the bills.

But I'm young. I can learn new tricks.

Permalink to Comment

47. Erik on July 12, 2006 9:49 PM writes...

Plain white labcoats?

In all the lab's I've worked in, I've yet to see a single person wear a white lab coat. Cleanroom bunny suits and machinists smocks are common, in the appropriate setting, but I thought actual lab coats were something that only happened in posed photographs.

I've certainly spent far more time sitting in from of machines that generate colored glows - admittedly, usually some share of yellow or green, not the deep ruby of sf films - than I've spent in a lab coat, plain white or otherwise.

Permalink to Comment

48. Brad Goodman on July 12, 2006 10:11 PM writes...

As an engineer and a [former] executive - a word to the wise:

Let the Scientists worry about the science.

Let the Photographers worry about the photography.

Let the PR department worry about the PR.

Seriously! Impress your investors and the public. Would YOU be interested in actual photos of what goes on in your department/group/company?

Permalink to Comment

49. antiproton maker guy on July 12, 2006 10:25 PM writes...

my science glows blue, but if you see it you bargf up your insides, swell into a pink shrieking watermelon and die, only to spend the next 250,000 years stuck in a lead coffin under a nevada mountain, surrounded by used fuel rods.


Permalink to Comment

50. Chet on July 12, 2006 10:57 PM writes...

What kind of lab do you work in Erik? I'm guessing not bio or chem? White lab coats are all the rage at my lab, though tee-shirt and jeans are a close second.

On another note, what is it with people claiming that science needs be more "hollywood" to be marketable or appealing? Sure most work stations are not very visually compelling, but that's not to say that there aren't interesting images that reflect the work of scientists.

A quick google search brings up these examples:

Hell, even a simple agrose gel under the UV light is potentially attractive and reflective of actual science. Maybe focus more on the science and less on the scientists?

Permalink to Comment

51. ROSS on July 12, 2006 11:22 PM writes...

Not only science, but more mundane technologies work this way. My wife is upstairs designing auto parts production equipment right now. It's midnight. On her desk are her second vodka and grapefruit, and a small dog, asleep. If you believed commercials, things get designed by small multicultural committees of attractive, clean cut youthful people. They are wearing crisp lab coats and watch a 3D rendering of a futuristic vehicle rotate slowly in wireframe on a monitor. One leans forward to make an intelligent comment. The others nod. Nobody reaches for a cocktail.
The facts of machine production are even worse. Factories are shown as clean, orderly and well lighted places, all hard hats and safety fencing. In fact, much production equipment is made by hand by talented and experienced specialists in small shops - often one guy. Safety is nonexistent except for the fanatically cautious. Injury and mayhem are ridiculously common. You can always tell the new guy because he can count to ten with his shoes on. In place of the lab coats and monitor, envision two shoprats. They are wearing generic rock and roll t-shirts from the previous decade and appallingly filthy jeans. They are standing in a pool of cold water at a grinding machine. They've been there for hours past dark and crushed cans of energy drink float around them. Each forces a piece of machined steel against the abrasive with his bare hands and sparks cascade everywhere. When it's done he cocks his arm back and flips the red hot chunk out the window sizzling into a snow bank to cool. This seemingly crudely fashioned chunk of ferrous metal will end up in a precision assembly line machine running tens of thousands of cycles with sub-milimeter accuracy and zero breakdowns. if people knew how auto parts production really worked, the streets would be empty of cars and pedestrians would be elbow to elbow on the sidewalks.

Permalink to Comment

52. Jeremy on July 13, 2006 12:30 AM writes...

Nearly every other day of the week is filled with bright colors from the dye laser project I am working on. Most of the time I work in the dark. We use bright green lasers to pump a fluorescent dye, which has emits a bright green to a deep red laser beam. This is then converted to UV which lights up a fluorescent sample inside a small cuvette. Its all very beautiful.

I never have to wear a lab coat. I was just wearing my ninja shirt the other day. Sometimes I wish I had a lab coat after I have spilled laser dye on my clothes. It's probably a good idea to wear a lab coat in most situations involving chemicals and solvents so you don't end up poisoning yourself or others.

My lab is also very cluttered. The boss says a cluttered lab is a good sign of a productive person.

I love my job.

Permalink to Comment

53. trilln451 on July 13, 2006 12:45 AM writes...

Look, bozo, that's my THIRD (well, 2.5) cocktail, and I haven't seriously designed anything for a few weeks now.

And I HAVE been in facilities where the client hosting me was DEAD SERIOUS about having me put on the stoopid eyewear & earplugs (at the same time admitting that the hearing protection policy as actually resulted in the factory being noisierm because people assumed everyone is wearing earplugs - those dumb things make my ears ache!)

AND Wayne has a couple other guys working with him now, & the new guy is a really good, experienced machinist, who made me VERY Happy in less than 3 hours today (but I still love YOU best, darling). Also, I've never seen him (Wayne) stand in an actual puddle of water, and his girlfriend has talked into cutting off that ridiculous ponytail - much better.

As far as the energy drinks & the filthy jeans, what can I say, Harry used to be in a rock band. Old habits die hard.

I remember, years ago, when my dad brought us (mom & kids) to visit Fisher Bodies (Plant 21, Detroit). It was shadowy and noisy (not deafening, but sort of loud white noise) and carcasses of automobiles were hanging from above, like a butcher shop. And everything was generally kind of grimy, and Dad went to work everyday in a T-shirt & blue jeans. He had served a full 4-year appenticeship to become a Jig and Fixture Builder, and he could draw designs IN INK - how many laptop-wielding young turks today could even ATTEMPT to do so! And he worked out his slip angles with trig tables and a calcuator, and he told me about one time when he built a fixture using Jo blocks and a height gage, and it checked good to FOUR DECIMAL PLACES.

Computers are nifty, but what happens when there's a blackout? Old School may not look pretty, but these people know what they're doing. I'll take substance over style any day.

Apologia - methinks this is a bit far afield from the original intent of the thread. Something about scientists being photgraphed with nice colored filters? OK, consider this a Hallo from the Applied Sciences. People Magazine isn't very interested, but that's just as well - they'd just get in the way when there's work to be done.

Permalink to Comment

54. Jennie on July 13, 2006 8:01 AM writes...

So, I'd like to re-direct the conversationto your thoguhts here and about the portrayal of the science process and scientists at science centers. Its not PR, its not a lab, its education, but its fun and enagaging.

Anythoughts? Any complaints? Any wishes?

Permalink to Comment

55. ghanima on July 13, 2006 8:12 AM writes...

I'm a graphic designer, so I'm subjected to this eye-hemorrage-inducing photography practically daily and can only agree with everything you've said. While test tubes are, perhaps, "prettier" lit up with all shades of neon effects, I prefer realism in my photography. The good news is that there's a noticeable wane in this type of science-photography post-'90s. The bad news is that the old stuff is generally cheaper to purchase.

In short, blame the people funding the brochure. They probably stiffed the designer, too.

Permalink to Comment