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Life: Magnified

"Life: Magnified" gives you an up-close look at life's processes at the cellular scale, ranging from the workings of a tick's mouth parts to the battle between a human T cell and the virus that causes AIDS.

"Life: Magnified" is an exhibit of scientific images showing cells and other scenes of life magnified by as much as 50,000 times. The exhibit is on display at Washington Dulles International Airport’s Gateway Gallery from June through November 2014.

This image reveals the mouth parts of a lone star tick in vivid detail. The center of the mouth (yellow) is covered with many tiny barbs. These barbs keep the tick securely lodged inside the host while feeding.

In plants, as in animals, stem cells can transform into a variety of different cell types. The stem cells at the growing tip of this Arabidopsis plant, a small plant related to cabbage, will soon become flowers.

Jellyfish are especially good models for studying the evolution of embryonic tissue layers. Despite being primitive, jellyfish have a nervous system (stained green here) and musculature (red). Cell nuclei are stained blue. By studying how tissues are distributed in this simple organism, scientists can learn about the evolution of the shapes and features of diverse animals.

This human T cell (blue) is under attack by HIV (yellow), the virus that causes AIDS. The virus specifically targets T cells, which play a critical role in the body’s immune response against microbial invaders.

Those of us who get sneezy and itchy-eyed every spring or fall can blame it on pollen grains like the ones shown here. Pollen grains are the male germ cells of plants, released to fertilize the corresponding female plant parts. When they are instead inhaled into human nasal passages, they can trigger allergies.

This image shows Q-fever bacteria (yellow), which infect cows, sheep and goats around the world and can infect humans as well. When caught early, Q fever can be cured with antibiotics. A small fraction of people can develop a more serious, chronic form of the disease.

This up-close look at a gecko’s foot shows some of its roughly 500,000 toe hairs, each of which is about one-tenth the thickness of a human hair. These hairs split into smaller hairs that fray into spatula-shaped structures, which give geckos their gravity-defying ability to scamper up walls and across ceilings. The strong-yet-gentle grip of gecko feet has inspired the design of medical adhesives for use on delicate skin.

Just 22 hours after fertilization, this zebrafish embryo is already taking shape. By 36 hours, all of the major organs will have started to form. The zebrafish’s rapid growth and see-through embryo make it ideal for scientists studying how organs develop.

The incredible complexity of a mammalian eye (in this case from a mouse) is captured here. Each color represents a different type of cell. In total, there are nearly 70 different cell types, including the retina’s many rings and the peach-colored muscle cells clustered on the left.

This microscopic look at human blood reveals that nearly half of our blood is composed of red blood cells. These lozenge-shaped cells have the all-important role of delivering oxygen to our tissues. T cells (orange) are an essential part of the immune system. Platelets (green), the smallest blood cells, clump together into clots to stanch bleeding after an injury.

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Hepatocytes, like the one shown here, are the most abundant type of cell in the human liver. They play an important role in building proteins; producing bile, a liquid that aids in digesting fats; and chemically processing molecules found normally in the body, like hormones, as well as other substances such as medicines and alcohol.

The long, spiral-shaped bacterium (gray) in this image causes relapsing fever, a disease characterized by recurring high fevers, muscle aches and nausea. The relapses result from the bacterium’s unusual ability to change the molecules on its outer surface, allowing it to dodge the human immune system.

"Life: Magnified" is a collaborative project of the American Society for Cell Biology, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health, and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority with support from Zeiss. See all 46 pictures in the exhibit at the "Life: Magnified" website.