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Photo by Sostarecz appears on cover of Cell

Barry McNamara
Assistant professor Michael Sostarecz captured this cover image with MC's high-speed camera.
Throwing darts at a water balloon provided an opportunity for Monmouth College assistant professor Michael Sostarecz to be represented on the cover of one of the leading peer-reviewed scientific journals.

An explosive image captured by Sostarecz with the college’s high-speed camera was used on the cover of the June 22 issue of Cell, the leading research journal for cell biology. It symbolizes a mitochondrial rupture that is part of new research on the gene p53 led by Ute M. Moll, professor of pathology at Stony Brook University School of Medicine.

The cover was released on June 21 and can be found online at

“While I was a graduate student, I took some images of exploding water balloons for fun with Penn State’s high-speed camera,” said Sostarecz, who teaches in Monmouth’s department of mathematics and computer science. “I put one of the images on my website, where it has sat for about 10 years.”

In early May, Moll contacted Sostarecz, who was looking for potential cover art to accompany her soon-to-be published research.

“She thought the image on my website represented her scientific findings of a protein destroying a mitochondria cell,” said Sostarecz. “The journal liked the idea but wanted a color image. I mentioned that MC’s high-speed camera was a color camera with better resolution.”

On the day before the start of Monmouth’s final exams, Sostarecz photographed darts impacting water balloons filled with colored dye. Assisting him were MC computer science students Alex Brooks, Tim Gilmour and Mike Stees.

“This was just a completely unexpected and fun project to work on,” said Sostarecz. “I am excited and honored to have one of my images appear on the cover of such a prestigious research journal.”

Added Eric Smith, a scientific graphic designer who assisted on the project, “Cell is notoriously tough, but I think Michael’s images are impossible to deny.”

Dubbed the “guardian of the genome” because it blocks cells with damaged DNA from propagating and eventually becoming cancerous, p53 is the most commonly mutated gene in cancer. However, new research led by Moll uncovers a novel role for p53 beyond cancer in the development of ischemic stroke. Her research team identified an unexpected critical function of p53 in activating necrosis, an irreversible form of tissue death, triggered during oxidative stress and ischemia. The findings are detailed in the current issue of Cell.

In the journal, the cover photo is explained as follows: “p53 accumulates in the mitochondrial matrix and triggers the opening of the permeability transition pore at the inner membrane, which leads to mitochondrial rupture and cell necrosis. This process is depicted on the cover as a bursting water balloon, captured by high-speed photography.”

“p53 is one of the most important genes in cancer and by far the most studied,” says Yusuf A. Hannun, director of the Stony Brook University Cancer Center. “Therefore, this discovery by Dr. Moll and her colleagues in defining the mechanism of a new p53 function and its importance in necrotic injury and stoke is truly spectacular.”