It’s rare that a scientist ventures from the world of cell culture and biology to that of fine art, but Dr. Ryan has woven these mystical realms in ways that widen our insights into both — her art reveals the inner workings of our beings, and of life itself, in unusually beautiful and unexpected ways.

“In search of function and scientific truth, I discovered the heroism of living cells. And I began to see a deeper truth in the invisible world of our own bodies, a world that appeared to bear witness to the human spirit – and perhaps even the essence of the soul. I decided to explore our blood and lung cells profoundly – so much is revealed when we perceive the wonder of living cells exhibited in a different light.”

— Una Ryan

Beams of Electrons

Extreme precision is required to achieve the ethereal quality of the final artwork, beginning with carefully executed electron micrographs of cells magnified up to x1,000,000, obtained though a complex process of chemical fixation or cryofixation, dehydration, sectioning, staining, freeze fracturing and mounting that takes days to prepare.

Looking at biological samples with an electron microscope poses numerous challenges. These include problems in exposing the sample to a vacuum and the effects bombarding the biological tissue with a beam of electrons. It takes skills and experience to prepare the samples and use the microscope in a way that gets the most enlightening images and the best data. This can be both time consuming and costly, with some samples taking several weeks before they can be imaged.

Because the electron microscope uses a beam of electrons to create an image of the specimen, electron micrograph images are in greyscale. These images do not have color (color is a property of light, not electrons). The images are then digitized at very high resolution and meticulously composed and constructed to become artistic creations. Each image in the Intimate Terrain series has been is painstakingly colored to highlight and reveal the structures from a twinned “submicroscopic/macrocosmic” artistic point of view without changing their fundamental splendor.

Colors of the Cosmos

For each image in the Intimate Terrain series, either the negative or positive image on the electron micrograph’s photographic plate gets scanned by Urban Digital Color to provide a black and white image that can be carefully manipulated on the computer screen. When Una first began working with image colors, she discovered, “it just seemed tame to simply be colorizing these profound images on a whim; this concept of how precious is this view of something so awe-inspiring and beautiful that you cannot see, seemed to mesh very well with looking at images of earth from outer space. What I hadn’t realized was how beautiful the colors are naturally when seen from space.”

Collaboration in the Color Lab

Griff Williams is a visual artist and owner of Urban Digital Color, a fine art printmaking studio, and its contemporary exhibition space Gallery 16 in San Francisco. His collaboration with Una in the sourcing and selection of satellite imagery for color composition, and his studio’s cutting-edge digital print forms supported the final artistic creations