Professor’s photo selected for cover of esteemed journal

Landing a magazine cover is a professional coup for a model. Turns out the same is true for a scholar.

Editors at the prestigious American Journal of Botany (AJB) selected a photo taken by Peter Siver, the Charles and Sarah P. Becker ’27 Professor of Botany, to be the cover image for the publication’s June 2015 edition. The photo, of a synurophyte alga magnified 10,000 times, was taken by Siver using a scanning electron microscope. It and other Siver photos accompany the article “Assessing the evolutionary history of the class Synurophyceae (Heterokonta) using molecular, morphometric, and paleobiological approaches,” authored by Siver and a team of researchers.*

“We're lucky to have authors who submit great photos each month for the cover of the AJB,” said Editor-in-Chief Pam Diggle. “We look for elements that anyone looks for in a strong photo — composition, colors, sharpness — but some of the best covers have the quality found in the June 2015 cover by Siver: the element of surprise. We want readers to be drawn in by the picture and then read the caption, and then to read the research article itself.”

The article is about the evolutionary history of synurophyte algae, which Siver and his fellow researchers charted using 50-million-year-old fossils from the Eocene Epoch. Their findings will allow them and other scientists to understand more about Earth’s history, while the photos — showing in great detail the organism’s extremely ornamental siliceous scales — help readers better understand the article and the research.

“I think because Peter’s pictures so clearly illustrate his points, it makes his research more accessible to a broader audience,” said T. Page Owen, associate professor of botany at Connecticut College. “He is an exceptional microscopist, an expert in light and scanning electron microscopy with an unmatched eye to scientific detail set in an artistic presentation. Capturing an intact sample in just the correct orientation is more difficult than one might suspect, particularly since there are so many technical problems than can arise from using this complex imaging tool.”

In addition to shooting microscopic images of his samples, Siver has long documented the sample-collection process, taking photos of the researchers and the lakes from which algae are gathered to provide context for the work he does. His photos have also graced the covers of Bioscience, the Journal of Phycology, Freshwater Biology, Molecular Ecology and Palaios, and he’s even exhibited images taken for research purposes at museums and galleries.

The AJB article will likely lead to more attention for Siver’s studies — “Authors who earn the cover photo also earn added discoverability for their work,” Diggle said — but Siver is simply happy to see his longtime research subject get the attention he feels it deserves.

“They usually put a higher plant on the cover,” he said, “so I was very pleased the AJB wanted to feature these single-celled algae.”

*Siver, P. A., B-Y. Jo, J-I. Kim, W-G. Shin, A. M. Lott, and A. P. Wolfe. 2015. Assessing the evolutionary history of the class Synurophyceae (Heterokonta) using molecular, morphometric, and paleobiological approaches. American Journal of Botany 102: 921-941.

August 17, 2015