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Participant Profiles

Internship leads to stronger materials, better automobiles and full-time employment

Graham Snodgrass has turned a childhood interest in photography into a burgeoning career in the technical imaging of insects that helps keep our nation’s troops out of harm’s way.

Graham Snodgrass

Graham Snodgrass

Since December 2008, Snodgrass has studied technical photography with an emphasis on biological specimens at Maryland’s Aberdeen Proving Ground, Edgewood Area. He is a participant in a U.S. Army Public Health Command (Provisional) program that is managed for the Department of Defense by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education’s Maryland Office.

“Though I never worked with or had much experience with insects as a child, I often explored anywhere I went with a camera in hand,” said the 25-year-old Snodgrass, who hails from Street, Md., where he is pursuing an associate’s degree in photography from Harford Community College.

At USAPHC, Snodgrass participates in the molecular biology lab of the entomological science program where he studies and photographs disease vectors such as mosquitoes, sand flies, ticks and beetles.

“A disease vector is simply an organism which is capable of transmitting a pathogen,” explained Snodgrass. “The Anopheles stephensi mosquito can transmit malaria, or the common deer tick, can transmit Lyme disease. Even an insect which doesn’t transmit disease can still cause the troops harm. The Paederus beetle, when squashed against the skin, causes painful blistering.”

Snodgrass’ expertise in technical imaging is crucial to troops in the field as they attempt to properly identify species of potentially harmful insects. For example, he said there are literally thousands of species of mosquitoes, but only a handful that bite humans and transmit diseases.

“The Asian tiger mosquito, for instance, is the vector for West Nile disease. Deployed troops can be brought down in the field by a variety of diseases, all carried by these types of arthropods,” Snodgrass said. “Our high-resolution images are able to show even the most subtle of characteristics that would differentiate a disease-carrying species from a non-carrying one.”

The images allow troops in the field to compare the specimen they have with a magnifying glass or loupe to the images of insects stored on their cell phone, laptop or PDA (personal digital assistant) and look for these otherwise unseen, but telltale traits of the insects.

Properly documenting the insects is only possible through images generated through intricate technical photography. The first step is to mount, clean and pose the insects using the correct lighting.

“When I say ‘technical photography,’ I mean applying special techniques that don’t often come into play,” Snodgrass said. “We are taking multiple photos—anywhere from 15 to 70, typically—of one subject at different positions to capture all of the different areas that come into focus. We then merge all of those frames together to form one fully focused image.”

Snodgrass said he can remember his first Polaroid. “As the technology became more advanced, I continued to be passionate about photography as an art form, and now feel that I have found an outlet that not only lets me be creative but is also highly sophisticated and beneficial to our nation’s troops.”

Snodgrass, who is also a fine-arts and commercial photographer, said he hopes to continue his research and eventually start a company that features ultra-high resolution technical imaging. He said his involvement with the program, which continues through Nov. 31, 2011, has only fueled his desire to make technical photography his avocation.

“I would recommend the program to anyone looking to educate themselves in an area of interest where they can get hands-on training and unique experiences to help guide their choices on what they do for a career in the future upon graduation.”