Parker the Photographer

Courtesy of Lauren Shepherd

Courtesy of Lauren Shepherd

After wearing out many years of running soles, Ian Parker, UC Irvine professor of neurobiology and behavior and  physiology and biophysics, can be seen snapping photos of the birds at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.

“I’ve always had an inbuilt drive to get out into the wild since I was young,” Parker said.

What his hiking, rock climbing and ultra-distance running have in common is the natural beauty he surrounds himself with when traversing across mountains and through canyons.

“These activities mesh well with my landscape photography, which aims to capture the spirit of wild and remote places,” Parker said.

Not many places are as wild and remote as Death Valley, the steaming hot desert on which Parker completed more than eight Badwater Ultramarathons.

The last ultramarathon he successfully completed in 2011 was 135 miles –– that’s five back-to-back marathons!

The ultramarathon not only tested Parker’s endurance — along with the other 90 people invited to participate — but it also tested the resistance of the human body to mental and physical strain when faced with temperatures close to 130 degrees Fahrenheit.

“It’s built as the world’s toughest ultramarathon,” Parker said.

Before Parker took on ultramarathons, he tried his hand at rock-climbing. Trying to find ways out of the city since his youth, Parker joined an active rock climbing club where he was studying for his bachelor’s and doctorate degrees in physiology at the University of London.

“Most of life is all very mixed up, but the pursuit is simple. A climb, it’s a simple success,” Parker said.

During his college years, rock climbing was a real passion for Parker; a passion that fueled his most professional photography.

He has had several photos published in rock climbing magazines like Mountain Magazine and EMBO Journal — a science journal in which his nature photos have made the cover 10 times.

“A lot of photography is trying to simplify your image. The real world is cluttered and messy. What I try to do is reduce a picture to its elements,” Parker said.

Published photos punctuated Parker’s successful scientific career.

While most scientists focus on a single topic for their research, Parker likes to incorporate physics together with biology, developing new techniques with new instruments.

“With microscopy we can actually see calcium in these cells, and their messages generated, looking at how it can go wrong in diseases,” Parker said.

When researching Alzheimer’s disease, The Parker Lab found that the calcium-signaling mechanism is disrupted. Potentially, it may offer some therapeutic treatment for Alzheimer’s further down the road.

Parker’s ingenuity and skill in building his own instruments for his labs have won him awards throughout the decade. In 1985, Parker began his professorship at UC Irvine, moving to Southern California for good.

In 2001, he received an award based on appreciative student feedback, Excellence in Teaching from the School of Biological Sciences at UCI. This fascination from his students would continue on to recognition from the nation.

In 2009, Parker was elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and in 2011 he received the MERIT Award from the National Institute of General Medical Science for his self-designed research.

The honor he enjoyed most was being elected Fellow of the Royal Society in the United Kingdom. The Royal Society is the world’s oldest scientific society and one of the most prestigious.

The society elects 44 fellows per year from all branches of medicine science, and Parker’s accomplishments in his research on calcium signaling, paired with his originally built instruments and techniques, made him one of the 44 in 2008.

Taking a brief hiatus from his research as the principle investigator in his award-winning lab, Parker plans to travel to his seventh and final continent, Antarctica, this summer.

“One nice aspect of photography is it is a motivation and an excuse to travel,” Parker said.

Parker’s portfolio holds the golden landscapes of Africa and Australia, the crystalline features of Iceland, the colorful complexities of Europe, the flavor of South and Central America, the intriguing beauty of Asia and the canyons, mountains, valleys and deserts of the U.S.

“I try to capture the beauty of nature, to not simply take a snapshot, but convey some emotion, what I feel about a place. To see the landscape through my eyes, not a literal representation,” Parker said.

While Parker chooses places of landscape in which he can embody the fleeting quality of light in flat and canyon regions, his wife joins him for the love of nature. Iceland is their favorite location, one they’ve visited four times.

“It’s important to take time away from work, I think it enhances the work,” Parker said. It gives him the chance to see the forest for the trees.