In a stunning collaboration with University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney, award-winning Australian photographer Tamara Dean set out to capture photos of scientists in their natural habitats.

From stargazing in Indigenous communities to climbing rugged hillsides in search of tiny animals, the photography series Wild Researchers challenges the seriously overdone stereotype of nerdy lab folk. (Not to even mention the frustrating 'mad scientist with goggles' trope. Seriously.)

Instead, through the eyes of the photographer we get a chance to hang out with scientists as they truly are, in the real environment where they gather samples, collect data, and ponder the mysteries of our planet and beyond. 

"I think a lot of the images that you tend to see are of researchers in a lab, or in a lab coat - in a particular way that we've been taught to perceive them," said Dean. "So the idea of taking these researchers out into the area that they work in was a really exciting way for me of tapping into how they fit into the big story of them within the world."

The photos, done in the photographer's characteristic painterly style, also let us engage with the actual research, reminding us science is not all about dry numbers and publishing papers. "Imagination: it's not the first word usually associated with research – with science itself – but it's a vital one," writes author Ashely Hay in an essay included in the exhibition catalogue. 

Below are some of our favourite images, posted with permission from UNSW. To see the whole exhibition, head over to their website.

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The toxin terminators: Mike Manefield, Matthew Lee, Robert Barnes – Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences.


Stargazer: Duane Hamacher – Nura Gili Academic Programs Unit


The possum whisperer: Hayley Bates – Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences


Heat stress: Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick – Climate Change Research Centre


Subterranean sleuth: Katie Coleborn – Connected Waters Initiative Research Centre


The urbanist: Scott Hawken – Smart Cities Research Cluster

UNSW Science is a sponsor of ScienceAlert. Find out more about their research.