The science world has found its Gerber baby, and it’s a 3-week-old lobster from Maine.
An otherworldly photo of the colorful lobster larva, taken by a University of Maine graduate student, won a National Science Foundation visual media award and is featured in the latest issue of Popular Science magazine.
The student, Jesica Waller, 24, is in her second year of a master’s program in marine biology, studying the effects that different climate change scenarios would have on the development of lobster larvae.
She’ll be writing her thesis in the coming months, showing that temperatures predicted for the coast of Maine in the year 2100 would cause lobsters to develop faster and die younger.
The photo was one of thousands that Waller has taken for her experiment as a way to measure the lobsters and see how they’re developing.
When a fellow student told her about the contest, she chose one of the photos to submit.
“I just thought the colors were really beautiful and it showed off some of the things that make lobster larvae unique,” she said, noting the eye, the feathery tail and the hairs on its legs.
The picture, called “American Lobster Larva,” was taken with a camera mounted on a dissecting microscope where the live lobster, just a few millimeters long, was on a slide.
It won the people’s choice award – selected by Popular Science readers – in the photography category of the annual contest, called the Vizzies, which honor visual media that convey scientific research.
“The larvae are so naturally colorful and beautiful, they make pretty easy subjects,” Waller said.
Jennifer Bogo, executive editor of Popular Science, said in an email Wednesday that “Science is not only fascinating, it can also be beautiful. This image of a lobster larva lets people glimpse an organism in an entirely new and captivating way, and that’s what made it so popular with our readers.”
The contest’s 10 winners – in categories that included video, illustration, interactive, and posters and graphics – were chosen from hundreds of submissions and are featured in the March/April issue of Popular Science, which hit the newsstands Tuesday when the award winners also were announced.
“I bought every copy I could find,” said Waller, who is in New Orleans for an ocean sciences conference.
She said she’s excited to be able to include the news of the award when she presents her research there Friday.
Waller, who grew up in Vermont and on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, is a graduate of the University of New Hampshire, where she majored in marine and freshwater biology.
She conducted her research this summer in conjunction with the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay. She currently works out of UMaine’s Darling Marine Center in Walpole and lives in Newcastle.
Also named on the award were Halley McVeigh, who assisted Waller with her research, and Noah Oppenheim, a former graduate student who helped format the photo.