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Entering the Ebola red zone: #ScientistAtWork photo competition 2018

Entering the Ebola red zone

Entering the Ebola red zone

Peter Horby & Rebecca Inglis

This picture of Tom Rawlinson and Josephine Borbor, researchers in Peter Horby’s infection diseases research group at the University of Oxford, UK, was taken in Sierra Leona at the height of the West Africa Ebola outbreak. Taken by Rebecca Inglis (a member of Horby’s group at the time), it was submitted to Naturejobs as part of the 2018 #ScientistAtWork photo competition, which runs until 31 March.

Read more about the competition here.

It’s 30 degrees Celsius outside, and the suits are even hotter, claustrophobic and uncomfortable. “When we came out, you could pour the sweat out of the rubber boots,” explains Horby. Worse still, the face masks and goggles, in bright, garish colours make it difficult for patients to relate to the researchers. “It’s very difficult to have a conversation with someone when they don’t know what you look like,” he adds. “All they can see of you is your eyes.”

The scientists were there as part of an international aid and research mission, testing a new drug in a clinical trial in the midst of a global public health emergency – one of the first times a drug has ever been tested in these sorts of conditions.

The photo, Horby says, captures the moment where Rawlinson and Borbor enter what’s known as the red zone, the quarantine area where up to 30 patients await clinical trials and treatment. Scientists must enter in pairs, to protect each other and watch out for dangers like dehydration or a rip in protective clothing. A lot of time is taken up putting the suits on and taking them off. Team members entered the zone more than 590 times during the three month trial, says Horby.

“With dangerous outbreaks like Ebola, doing the science is especially difficult,” he adds. “I’ve done presentations and used the title ‘science in a crisis’ – I’ve been in a few crises.”

The dangers and difficulties carry an enormous reward. Beyond helping individual patients, Horby hopes his work will inspire more trials like this one, and accelerate the availability of medicine during other outbreaks. “What we’ve shown is you can do this international-standard clinical research even in the most extreme crisis. We want people to not be put off of the extreme challenges,” he says.

And he hopes that photographs like this one will show scientists what his work entails – that it’s difficult, but do-able. “Many of the Oxford staff are volunteers and they’re doing it because they want to. That’s what the photographs are for – to show people that it’s possible.”

Horby also sees his team’s work in Africa as an example of the work that scientists can find outside the lab. “There are lots of opportunities for exciting science – it goes well beyond the bench or the microscope. This is a situation where you’re in a tough field environment, and one that has a really important effect on global health. Science can be part of that response.”


About the competition

The competition runs midnight GMT on 31 March 2018. Entrants must not be professional photographers.

All you need to do to enter is either:

  1. Email us your photo with a quick description and your contact details, or
  2. Post your image on Twitter with the #ScientistAtWork tag, or
  3. Post your image on Instagram with the #ScientistAtWork tag

You must be willing to grant us the rights to publish your image for the competition. You also must be contactable — we’ll be getting in touch to interview you about your photo if you are one of the five winners. We may also contact runners-up, as we did in 2017, to find out more about the story behind the image.

The winning entries will be decided by a panel of Nature journalists and art staff. We’re looking for images that capture moments in a scientific day — either in or out of the lab — in an original way. Heavily photoshopped images will not be considered (though colour correction and touching-up is fine). Finally, your photo must be high enough quality for print publishing in Nature (at least 220 mm at 300 dpi) to be considered.

Please feel free to send any questions to


Horby’s photo is an entry to the #ScientistAtWork photo competition. You can find out more at this link. or see terms and conditions below.


Please read these terms and conditions carefully. By entering into this Naturejobs ScientistAtWork photo competition (“Promotion”), you agree that you have read these terms and that you agree to them. Failure to comply with these terms and conditions may result in your disqualification from the Promotion.

  1. This Promotion is run by Nature Research, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited a company registered in England with registered number 00785998 and registered office at The Campus, 4 Crinan Street, London N1 9XW (“Promoter”).
  2. To enter this Promotion you must be: (a) resident in a country where it is lawful for you to enter; and (b) aged 18 years old or over (or the applicable age of majority in your country if higher) at the time of entry. This Promotion is void in Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria and where prohibited or restricted by law.
  3. This Promotion is not open to directors or employees (or members of their immediate families) of Promoter or any subsidiary of Promoter. This Promotion is not open to professional photographers (for the purposes of this Promotion, a professional photographeris someone who makes more than half their annual income from the sale of their photographs). Promoter reserves the right to verify the eligibility of entrants.
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  5. No purchase is necessary to enter this prize Promotion and will not increase your chances of winning.
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  9. The prize for the Promotion consists of the following: a personal print and online subscription to The entry will be considered – by the editors – for publication in Nature magazine, alongside participants’ name and affiliation (if applicable). The editors reserve full editorial discretion in choosing winner(s), and may decide to award none of the entries.
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