Finding free to use science images

Sometimes you need a science image to illustrate a Powerpoint slide or to spruce up a website, and the pictures you use in research papers and presentations aren’t always fit for these purposes. You need images that catch the audience’s attention and marks a visual distinction from your other slides or other pages of your website.

You can’t just grab any image off the internet: Many are protected by copyright, which would prevent you from sharing the material you’re creating. How can you find images for your slides and websites?


  • Ask for permission if you know who created or owns the original image you want to use. Note that if you ask an illustrator to use their image in a presentation, for example, you will have to ask them again if you later decide to turn that presentation into course material.
  • Do a reverse image search using Google Image Search or TinEye to try to find the origins of images you can’t find a source for.
  • Search for public domain or Creative Commons-licenced images. Find out more below.

Searching for images

There are a few places to look for science-themed images that are either in the public domain or have a Creative Commons licence that allows reuse.

  • If you’re doing a Google Image search, you can filter your results to only show you images that you can reuse in your materials. You can do something similar on Flickr.
  • Stock images sites like Pixabay and Unsplash allow you to reuse their images, but they don’t have a lot of science images in their collection.
  • Finally, you can search specialist collections like Wellcome Images, some museums or government-funded institutions like NASA to view images from specific areas of science that are often reusable either with or without credit.

Who uses this?

  • Images in some open access journals have a Creative Commons licence, so you can reuse them with proper credit. You can find some of these images on Figshare, or directly in journals such as PLOS journals or eLife. Always check the journal website to make sure the licence allows reuse for your purpose.
  • Teaching centres at the University of Sussex and Vanderbilt University (among others) have written guides for the use of Creative Commons-licenced images in educational presentations. This is particularly relevant for people who are developing course material for online courses.
  • Science bloggers who need regular images to illustrate their blog posts have created lists of places to find useful images. Here’s a list by Alex Wild, and one by Eva Amsen. Some of these will overlap with sites suggested above.

Image credit: Cropped and colour-altered image of an original by OIST on Flickr (CC-BY)