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The Art (and Science) of Photo Documentation

by Laurie Callahan

Biology major Pablo Quinonez fell in love with nature photography at an early age. Now, what began with snapshots of birds and other wildlife around his home has turned into a serious undertaking that aids his scientific research.

Pablo explains, “Through three years of college biology labs, I took pictures of the work I was doing, just to preserve the memory of the experiments and procedures.” This year, when Pablo pulled out his camera to document his work in Dr. Barbara Kreutzer’s Advanced Research Methods class, the professor asked if he would be willing to photograph key procedural steps. So Pablo’s science-lab photography became more intentional and methodical, as he captured the steps in complicated scientific processes.

Dr. Kreutzer was excited by the results and, at her suggestion, Pablo established an online site where other MU Biology students could refer to his photos. The pictures will remain online for future students to use as a learning tool and reference. Pablo points out, “Although procedures may be written clearly, photography can provide visual examples of the setups, methods, and techniques. Photo documentation of experiment results is important, but students who are learning laboratory procedures will probably benefit more from this kind of visual walk-through of the steps that they need to follow.”

This spring, Pablo presented his photo documentation project at Marymount’s annual Student Research Conference. Dr. Kreutzer remarks, “This was really an impressive project! Pablo’s photos will accelerate the learning curve for future students, helping them do techniques more quickly and understand the results better.”

Others were equally impressed with Pablo’s work. In fact, his close-up photo of an orange being dropped into a tank of water was selected for inclusion on National Geographic’s website in March 2010.

That photo piqued the interest of Dr. Todd Rimkus, an MU Biology professor, whose research focuses on turtles. He says, “Pablo’s work with the orange got me thinking about what we could do with turtles. We’re interested to know whether turtles all dive the same way. Do they have their eyes open or closed? Do they submerge at the same angle of trajectory? Are diving behaviors innate or learned? I thought, ‘Maybe we can get photos that would help to answer these questions.’” So in collaboration with Dr. Rimkus, Pablo applied for, and received, a $2,000 grant from the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges, to support the photo documentation of ongoing turtle research this summer.

And, in July, Dr. Rimkus will lead his annual study-abroad trip to Belize, where he will teach Introduction to Marine Biology and Tropical Ecology. Pablo will be one of the students enrolled in that class, with the special assignment of photographing the wildlife under observation!

Pable Quinonez envisions his experiences at Marymount leading to the career of his dreams. He says, “I would love to go into science photography, perhaps working for a publishing company or in a research setting. Marymount has shown me that this is possible.”