Here we present the winners (and our favorite runners-up) from the 2012 International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge. Now in its tenth year, the competition proves that "Science and engineering's most powerful statements are not made from words alone," as emblazoned on the contest's website.
The visualization challenge is designed to encourage a better public understanding of scientific research and is sponsored by the journal Science and the U.S. National Science Foundation. Criteria for entries include visual impact, effective communication, freshness and originality. Scientists submitted a total of 215 photos, illustrations, videos and games, and we've pared the list down to our favorite "nerdy dozen."
The captions were written by the contestants and submitted along with their entries.
This image won an honorable mention as well as a people's choice award in the category of illustration.
These are biomineral crystals found in a sea urchin tooth. Geologic or synthetic mineral crystals usually have flat faces and sharp edges, whereas biomineral crystals can have strikingly uncommon forms that have evolved to enhance function. The image here was captured using environmental scanning electron microscopy and false-colored. Each color highlights a continuous single-crystal of calcite (CaCO3) made by the sea urchin Arbacia punctulata, at the forming end of one of its teeth. Together, these biomineral crystals fill space, harden the tooth, and toughen it enough to grind rock.
This image won first place and people's choice award in the photography category.
Evolution encourages diversity, allowing Nature to solve problems in more than one way. This image is a 3D CT scan of a clam and a whelk, both alive. The clam (left) is nestled comfortably in the bottom half of its shell. Note the simplicity of the hinge design in its bivalve shell. By closing the shell rapidly, the clam is able to fence off a potential attack. Yet the whelk's shell (right) is even more amazing. The sophisticated spiral construction is astonishingly complex and strong, an architectural marvel by itself and an evolutionary success! Once the whelk slipped back into the spiral tunnel of its shell, the shell provides protection similar to a fortress. Both the clam and the whelk solve the vital problem of self defense, albeit in different ways. The whelk however has the upper hand because it has the ability to drill a hole directly through the clam's shell by softening it with secretions and then consumes the clam as meal.
This image earned an honorable mention.
Cognitive computing researchers at IBM are developing a new generation of “neuro-synaptic” computer chips inspired by the organization and function of the brain. For guidance into how to connect many such chips in a large brain-like network, they turn to a “wiring diagram” of the monkey brain as represented by the CoCoMac database. In a simulation designed to test techniques for constructing such networks, a model was created comprising 4,173 neuro-synaptic “cores” representing the 77 largest regions in the Macaque brain. The 320,749 connections between the regions were assigned based on the CoCoMac wiring diagram. This visualization is of the resulting core-to-core connectivity graph. Each core is represented as an individual point along the ring; their arrangement into local clusters reflects their assignment to the 77 regions. Arcs are drawn from a source core to a destination core with an edge color defined by the color assigned to the source core.
This illustration won first place.
This is a photograph of a high current plasma discharge at a frequency of about 3MHz. Plasma is the fourth state of matter. The majority of visible matter in our universe is plasma. However, plasma is rarely seen on Earth and is an unfamiliar concept to many elementary science classes. This photograph contains multiple levels of visual information featuring image aspects that are familiar (lightning) and much more complex: Why is it curly? Why is it cloud-like? Why does the cloud glow? Is it hot? Why doesn’t the glass bottle melt? It provides visual support to initiate discussions on the fourth state of matter, lightning, aurora, our sun and the solar wind.