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News - Creepy crawlies inspire scientific art

16th August 2012

Trained as a scientific illustrator, entomologist and taxonomist, it's fair to say that QUT's Amy Carmichael has a unique job. Mrs Carmichael, a senior technician in microscopy and ecology in the Science and Engineering Faculty, is QUT's go-to person for classic illustrations of wildlife, particularly insects. It's an art form that stretches back hundreds of years. Sydney Parkinson, for example, made nearly 1000 drawings of plants and animals during Captain James Cook's first voyage to the Pacific in 1768. But rather than peering into a microscope for hours to produce painstaking, detailed illustrations of scientific subjects, digital technology is changing the field. "It's a very expensive, remnant art. One illustration can take 10 or more hours to complete," Mrs Carmichael said. "Scientific illustration has changed over the years. It used to be mainly watercolour or pen and ink but now an enormous part of it is digitally done. "It's cheaper to take a photograph because it's quicker and the images can then be digitally enhanced, for example, by merging photographs with illustrations." Mrs Carmichael has applied an artist's touch to black and white images taken using QUT's Scanning Electron Microscope, adding eye-catching colours to magnified pictures of parasitic wasps, giant wood moths and flora. However, Mrs Carmichael says drawings still have a place in scientific illustration. "Line illustrations can capture everything in focus or zoom into a specific region of an insect. You can't do that with a photograph," she said. Her work has appeared in textbooks, academic papers and government publications, and prints of images from the Scanning Electron Microscope can be seen in the ground floor of R-Block at QUT's Gardens Point campus. Mrs Carmichael completed a Master of Applied Science at QUT and Bachelor of Natural History Illustration at the University of Newcastle. Media contact: Stephanie Harrington, QUT media officer, 3138 1150,

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