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Wellcome Image of the Month: something from the hospital or something for Easter?

31 Mar, 2010
Malty chocolate. Image credit: Kevin MacKenzie and Wellcome Images

Is it bone or is it chocolate?

The scanning electronic micrograph (SEM) above is a cross section of a treat that some of us will be devouring at Easter: a malty, chocolate sweet.

Kevin MacKenzie from the Institute of Medical Sciences, University of Aberdeen, created this image by using a razor blade to slice a malty, chocolate sweet in half to reveal a flat, freshly exposed surface. He then mounted the sample and coated it with a thin layer of gold to prevent the accumulation of static electric fields around the sample in the microscope, which would improve the contrast of the final image.

Kevin produced his image for a “What Is It?” competition, for which he’d previously imaged other confectionery. Prior to colouring the black and white SEM to closely match the brown and yellow of the sweet, many of his colleagues thought that this was an image of bone and not the insides of a malted chocolate.

Osteoporotic bone from the vertebra - SEM. Image credit: Professor Alan Boyde and Wellcome Images

Osteoporotic bone from the vertebra

The mesh of collagen minerals, blood vessels and marrow found in bone has a ‘honeycomb’ structure that, as can be seen from the micrograph to the right, bears a striking similarity to the interior of the malty, chocolate sweet, especially when it becomes osteoporotic. This is because osteoporosis causes the spaces within the mesh of the bone to become larger, making it weaker and less elastic. Given how brittle and crunchy a malty chocolate is, it’s easy to understand that osteoporosis causes sufferers to have fragile bones.

When I asked Kevin about the difficulties of imaging a sample with such delicious properties, he explained that he couldn’t handle the chocolate with his fingers in case it melted. He also assured me that no chocolates were harmed in the process, but I suspect several may have been consumed…

Louise Crane, Picture Researcher, Wellcome Images

Image credits: Chocolate, Kevin MacKenzie and Wellcome Images. Bone, Professor Alan Boyde and Wellcome Images
Wellcome Images is one of the world’s richest and most unique collections, with themes ranging from medical and social history to contemporary healthcare and biomedical science. All our images are available in digital form so please click the links above if you would like to use the pictures that feature in this post, or to quickly find related ones. Many are free to use non-commercially under the terms of a Creative Commons licence and full details of the specific licence for each image are provided.
One Comment leave one →
  1. Aya permalink
    31 Mar, 2010 4:28 pm

    It’s a malteser, right?

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