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NIMR scientists find the inner artist

by Guest Author on 30 Apr 2015

The MRC National Institute for Medical Research closed at the end of March, with much of its research and scientists moving to the new Francis Crick Institute. Dr Qiling Xu, now a researcher at the Crick Institute, wanted to capture something of the spirit of NIMR ― and decided that taking up paintbrushes and embroidery needles would be an excellent way to do so.

The entire artwork of 100 patches

On the 1 April, the NIMR ceased to exist and became the Crick Mill Hill Laboratory. To mark this event, I suggested we produced a textile artwork as a lasting memento. We invited each research lab, support section and club to create an artwork on a small square of cloth, which we then stitched together to form a single work that celebrates the science, life and ethos of NIMR.

We believe that there is an artist in all of us, and we wanted to celebrate the collaborative culture of NIMR. The response was tremendous and people from many different parts of the institute were involved in creating the 100 patches. I was really impressed by their imagination and creativity, the professional finish and high quality of the patches, and the many hours that people put into their contributions. Every patch has a story to tell.

Here is a selection of works created by research scientists and support staff at NIMR. These artworks were produced with various techniques including fine needlework such as cross stitch, applique and beading as well as painting and printing. Selecting just a handful was a difficult task – I am sorry to have left out so many lovely ones. You can see more patches from NIMR developmental biologists on the Node.

An embroidery of a malaria-infected cellRed blood cell under attack

Malaria parasites colonising and multiplying inside a red blood cell. By Munira Grainger from Tony Holder’s lab.





Cloth patch with coloured background and embroidered immune cellsTuberculosis and the immune system

This lab studies the molecular mechanisms behind how cytokines affect immune cells such as macrophages and T cells, particularly in mice and human cells infected with tuberculosis. The canvas background represents a microarray heat map – a graphical way of representing which genes in a sample are turned on or off. The embroidery depicts a tuberculosis-infected macrophage interacting with a T cell. By Christina Taubert, Damian Carragher, Simon Blankley, Lucia Moreira-Teixeria and Philippa Stimpson from Anne O’Garra’s lab.

Cloth patch with embroidered pipette and protein structuresThe pipette is mightier than the pen

This lab does research into structures of proteins involved in host-virus interactions. The design represents both the lab’s research (the viral proteins and protein structures), the day-to-day work in the lab (the pipette and bottle) and the lab’s outlook: that, irrespective of bureaucracy, politics or policy, the science is what matters (the pipette is mightier than the pen). By Laurence Arnold from Ian Taylor’s lab.

Cloth patch with embroidery of a mouseCake and chromosome 21

This patch comes from a lab of immunologists and Down syndrome researchers working with mice. The B-, T- and NK cell, as well as the macrophage, represent important immune cells isolated from mice. They are connected with the mouse tail by coloured rays, which represent the laser beams in a FACS (Fluorescence Activated Cell Sorting) machine, which helps to identify and purify these cell populations.

The 21 shaped by the two chromosomes represents Down syndrome research (as chromosome 21 is affected). The cupcake in the 303 (the lab’s room number) indicates their insatiable need for cake and biscuits. By Jennifer Mueller from Victor Tybulewicz’s lab.

Painting of HIVA viral portrait

This piece represents HIV, based on a computational model of its surface. The purple shapes represent the surface glycoproteins gp120 and gp41. By Paula Ordonez-Suarez from Jonathan Stoye’s lab.



Painting of neuronsRecording neurons

The Neurophysiology Division has both pioneered and used techniques to dissect the function of neural circuits. The canvas depicts neurons (in green, red and yellow) which are part of the olfactory bulb circuit. A red dye-filled pipette is recording the electrical activity of the yellow neuron. Overlying all this in white is the read-out from such a recording – the iconic shape of an action potential. By Becky Jordan from the Neurophysiology Division.

Embroidery of library doorsA portal to knowledge

The NIMR Library at Mill Hill is a purpose-built, galleried reading room in classic 1930s art deco style. It has striking views to the north over the Totteridge Valley, and gleaming brass door handles polished every week by our loyal cleaner, Colin Philips.

The Library has served the scientific information needs of NIMR researchers since 1920, adapting many times to suit the changing needs of science and to take advantage of new technological opportunities. This design shows the clockface and the swing door that are at each end of the reading room, signifying the library as a portal to knowledge. By Patti Biggs, Deputy Librarian. The whole Library team (Patti Biggs, Frank Norman and Nicola Weston) and the Library Transition team (Eleni Loli and Jonathon Vines) contributed to the design.

EngineeringNuts and bolts

The mechanical engineering service is known for manufacturing bespoke items and supplying the ‘nuts and bolts’ for medical research. The canvas shows a plan of the NIMR main building (made from green baize salvaged from the snooker table in the games room) beneath a ‘digital caliper’, a tool used for taking accurate measurements during the manufacture of precision components.

The text was created by using ‘nuts and bolts’ from the vast selection of screws and fasteners kept in the workshop store. By Alan Ling, Head of the Engineering Workshop.

Green_cropA walk in the grounds

The NIMR grounds contain four small fields with mown pathways to form a ‘green walk.’ A rich variety of wildlife shares our space – Muntjac deer and rabbits have even been seen on the lawn below the canteen in daylight, with pipistrelle bats flying shortly after dusk. In the fields below, weasels, foxes, grass snakes, many birds, butterflies and other insect species can be observed with just a little patience. By Liz Hirst, from the Electron Microscopy Unit.

Farewell NIMR, farewell green fields. May the spirit of NIMR continue to grow and prosper at the Francis Crick Institute.

Qiling Xu


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