Thompson Rivers University

Research photos worth 1,000 words

April 16, 2021

What does research look like?

As an open-access research university, Thompson Rivers University students and faculty have long been engaged in research. Whether that research involves rattlesnakes, cattle or community groups, data is collected and analyzed, and the results are used to make research-informed decisions.

But we don’t often get the chance to see research as it’s happening, so we launched the Worth 1,000 Words Research in Pictures contest to encourage faculty and student researchers to submit images that illustrate the research process.

Taking first place and winning a $500 prize is Sarah Bayliff’s image, Cutting Through the Fog:

Cutting Through the Fog by Sarah Bayliff: The rising sun burns through the early morning fog above a TRU agricultural research site.
Cutting Through the Fog by Sarah Bayliff: The rising sun burns through the early morning fog above a TRU agricultural research site. This research site is used to examine the use of mowing to increase plant productivity and soil carbon of perennial cropping systems. The square plots seen in the photo are each cut at a different mowing height, ranging from 0 to 30 cm in 5 cm increments. The goal of this study is to determine which cutting height will stimulate the highest levels of aboveground and belowground plant production. Plant productivity is positively correlated with carbon sequestration. Therefore, increasing the productivity of agricultural fields has potential to increase sustainability as atmospheric carbon is sequestered within soil and plant material. Better understanding how mowing affects plant and soil characteristics will allow for land to be managed for optimum productivity and environmental sustainability.

The contest was adjudicated by TRU faculty members Donald Lawrence and Bruce Martin, as well as Emily Hope, education and public programs director for the Kamloops Art Gallery.

What the judges appreciated most about this year’s images is how well the photos and the captions work together to explain the research.

“The photos are compelling and the research is clearly articulated,” says Hope.

Of Bayliff’s winning photograph, the judges remarked at how perfectly the image and caption work together to assist the viewer in understanding the research, and in putting them there in the field.

In second place and taking home a $250 prize, the judges selected Nancy Van Wagoner’s Chondrite Normalized, which Martin described as “compelling, striking… an image that draws you in completely.”

Chondrite Normalized by Nancy Van Wagoner.
Chondrite Normalized by Nancy Van Wagoner: About 50 million years ago, Kamloops was surrounded by volcanoes. The purpose of our research is to determine the causes of this volcanic activity, how volcanism evolved in space and time, and whether it influenced past climates. One way of working out where the magmas originated from is to compare the geochemistry of the volcanic rocks with a type of meteor called a chondrite (chondrite normalized). The image is of a chondritic meteor magnified 100 times (field of view is 2 mm). The graph tells us about the composition of the mantle and how it was melted to produce the Kamloops magmas. I was taken by the way the graph follows the curve of the crystals.

We also asked our community to weigh in on their favourite submissions for the People’s Choice Award and a final $100 prize. Chloe Howarth took home first place in this category with her mesmerizing Snake Eyes photo:

Snake Eyes by Chloe Howarth: A large male western rattlesnake tongue-flicks to "taste" the air.
Snake Eyes by Chloe Howarth: A large male western rattlesnake tongue-flicks to “taste” the air, allowing him to detect the scents of predators and prey (and field biologists!). This beautiful gold-eyed snake was seen basking outside of his overwintering den near Osoyoos, BC, on one of the last warm days of fall. He was observed during a den survey conducted as part of an ongoing mark-recapture effort in the region. After his photo was taken, he was captured (following wildlife permits and animal care approved protocols), tagged, measured, and weighed, before being released to continue enjoying the late-season sun!

People’s Choice Top 5

  1. Snake Eyes by Chloe Howarth
  2. Cutting Through the Fog by Sarah Bayliff
  3. Utilizing Traditional Indigenous Knowledge for Ecosystem Repair by Brandon Williams
  4. Wet and Wild Research: Using irrigation to increase soil carbon by Sarah Bayliff
  5. Snake Timeshare by Chloe Howarth

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