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National Science Foundation

2011 Winners

Discover the artistry behind the 2011 International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge winners as they explain the processes, techniques and thoughts behind their entries.

Credit: National Science Foundation

Captions from Daniel Strain, Science 335: 526-535 (2012). Full story in Science magazine.

Categories

Photography

First Place

Metabolomic Eye
Metabolomic Eye
Credit: Bryan William Jones, Moran Eye Center, The University of Utah

This beautiful set of concentric rings and shapes is actually a metabolic look at the wide diversity of cells in the eye of a mouse. In all, 70 different types of cells are depicted, from muscles to retina, each colored a unique shade. Muscle cells, located at the left edge of the image, look pale yellow, whereas scleral tissue, surrounding the entire orb, shows up green.

Honorable Mention

Microscopic Image of Trichomes on the Skin of an Immature Cucumber
Microscopic Image of Trichomes on the Skin of an Immature Cucumber
Credit: Robert Rock Belliveau

For this close-up, vibrant shot of a young cucumber, the photographer used a polarizing microscope. Unlike microscopes that use normal, unpolarized light, these microscopes record the refraction of light as it passes through small objects producing sharp, colorful images. The structures, shown here at 800 magnification, are trichomes. They coat the surface of growing cucumbers and look, to the naked eye, like a thin film of fuzzy hair. The tips of trichomes taper to a point that can pierce the mouths of predators and their bulbous bases are filled with bitter-tasting and toxic molecules called cucurbitacins.

People's Choice

The Cliff of the Two-Dimensional World
The Cliff of the Two-Dimensional World
Credit: Babak Anasori, Michael Naguib, Yury Gogotsi, Michel W. Barsoum, Drexel University

This landscape, which looks like a red-rock bluff straight out of Utah, isn't a geologic feature. Instead, it's a nanostructured material made from ultrathin layers of titanium-based compounds, as seen under an electron microscope. These exfoliated layers, which Babak Anasori and colleagues at Drexel University in Philadelphia dubbed MXenes, are so thin they are two-dimensional. In other words, each strip is only five atomic layers thick. The team is the first to render such materials in 2-D. The MXenes could be used in energy storage devices, sensors, solar cells and other applications, the team writes. And they could give the majesty of Arches National Park in Utah some nanoscale competition.

Illustration

Honorable Mention

Tumor Death-Cell Receptors on Breast Cancer Cell
Tumor Death-Cell Receptors on Breast Cancer Cell
Credit: Emiko Paul, Quade Paul, Echo Medical Media; Ron Gamble, UAB Insight

Cancer cells get the monster movie treatment. If Emiko Paul of Echo Medical Media's illustration of breast cancer cells looks like something out of an H.P. Lovecraft short story, it's no accident. "We wanted to show something that was dramatic and very active," Paul says. This image depicts the war on cancer in a manner that makes clear who the bad guys are. Paul drew on microscopic images of breast cancer cells--seen here looking like creatures with long tentacles--for inspiration. But her illustration also depicts a possible weapon against these malignant tissues: An antibody developed by researchers at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, called TRA-8 (the green, globular structures).

Honorable Mention

Variable-Diameter Carbon Nanotubes
Variable-Diameter Carbon Nanotubes
Credit: Joel Brehm, Office of Research and Economic Development, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Nanostructures, as the name implies, are much too small to see. But using 3-D modeling techniques and some guesswork, graphic artist Joel Brehm renders a handful of these ultrathin structures visible to the naked eye. Brehm's illustration focuses on the work of his colleague, Yongfen Lu, an engineer at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Lu and colleagues employ lasers to develop new methods for crafting thin tubes made from carbon. But not just any tubes. His team's method precisely varies the diameter and properties of these structures. The resulting tubes, seen here, widen, narrow or even bulge out like pears along their length. These designs could improve transistors and sensors in a range of electronics, the team says.

Honorable Mention

Exploring Complex Domain Functions Using Domain Coloring
Exploring Complex Domain Functions Using Domain Coloring
Credit: Konstantin Poelke, Konrad Polthier, Free University of Berlin

This illustration represents one example of a complex function. Such functions are mathematical relationships that incorporate both real and imaginary numbers, such as the square root of -1. To create this visualization, researchers at the Free University of Berlin assigned each complex number in their equation to a spot on a color wheel. The farther numbers get from zero, the brighter they are (white regions approach infinity). The result packs two dimensions of information (hue and brightness) into each point in the image.

People's Choice

Separation of a Cell
Separation of a Cell
Credit: Andrew Noske, Thomas Deerinck, National Center for Microscopy & Imaging Research; Horng Ou, Clodagh O'Shea, Salk Institute

This new and tactile view of a cell undergoing division comes thanks to a specialized protein called MiniSOG. This illustration shows the molecule zipping toward the reader, fluorescent and standing out crisply from an electron microscope image. With some tweaking, MiniSOG binds tightly to a second protein closely associated with DNA, giving scientists the ability to target and view chromosomes in detail as they peel apart during mitosis.

Informational Posters & Graphics

First Place

The Cosmic Web
The Cosmic Web
Credit: Miguel Angel Aragon-Calvo, Johns Hopkins University; Julieta Aguilera, Mark SubbaRao, Adler Planetarium

Galaxies don't grow out of nothing. Instead, their formation is decided by underlying but invisible accumulations of dark matter. Scientists suspect that this theoretical substance gives rise to most of the gravity in the universe. In regions where dark matter is dense, galaxies begin to form, often grouping together in clusters or long walls. This poster explores the same patch of space (240 million light years wide, from top to bottom) from five different vantage points, traveling from the invisible to the visible, from the time after the big bang to the present day.

Honorable Mention

The Ebola Virus
The Ebola Virus
Credit: Ivan Konstantinov, Yury Stefanov, Alexander Kovalevsky, Anastasya Bakulina, Visual Science

Ivan Konstantinov and colleagues at the Russian-based group Visual Science drew on existing scientific information to depict the 3-D structure of the Ebola virus, responsible for fatal outbreaks of hemorrhagic fever throughout much of Africa. The virus, only 1400 nanometers in length, is no simple pathogen, Konstantinov says, but contains roughly 3 million lipids and protein molecules. The poster, too, provides a good look at how Ebola turns dangerous. Proteins coded by the virus's own genome are shown here in maroon. They're the pathogen's Velcro, clinging to the surface of target cells and giving the virus access to their interior.

People's Choice

Transmission Electron Microscopy: Structure, Function and 3D Reconstruction
Transmission Electron Microscopy: Structure, Function and 3D Reconstruction
Credit: Fabian de Kok-Mercado, Victoria Wahl-Jensen, Laura Bollinger, NIAID IRF

For anyone who's ever wanted to take apart a microscope to see how it works, this is the poster for you. Here, scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Integrated Research Facility (IRF) in Frederick, Md., dismantle a transmission electron microscope (TEM) piece by piece--all without damaging expensive lab equipment. These instruments bombard tiny objects such as viruses or proteins with beams of electrons, capturing images too small for conventional light microscopes. In their dissection, Fabian de Kok-Mercado and colleagues at IRF delve into deeper and deeper detail, moving from left to right. The researchers first display a TEM in its entirety. Then they follow the visualization tool down to its cryodevice (at right), which keeps organic samples cool for maximum clarity. In between, viewers themselves can track the formation of an electron beam from start to finish.

Interactive Games

First Place

Foldit Foldit
Foldit
Credit: Seth Cooper, David Baker, Zoran Popović, Firas Khatib, Adrien Treuille, Jeff Flatten, Kefan Xu, Dun-Yu Hsiao, Riley Adams, Center for Game Science, University of Washington

This interactive game presents players with puzzles that start with a snaking arrangement of amino acids, identical to the sequence of an actual protein. Players then have to fold that sequence into a complex 3-D structure that fits the laws of chemistry. The closer players get to folding a realistic looking molecule, the higher they score, and the more researchers learn about how proteins loop and scrunch inside living cells. Play Foldit here.

Honorable Mention

Meta!Blast 3D Interactive Application for Cell and Metabolic Biology. Level 1: The Cell Meta!Blast 3D Interactive Application for Cell and Metabolic Biology. Level 1: The Cell
Meta!Blast 3D Interactive Application for Cell and Metabolic Biology. Level 1: The Cell
Credit: W. Schneller, P.J. Campbell, M. Stenerson, D. Bassham, E.S. Wurtele, Iowa State University

Meta!Blast 3D aims to teach novices about the cell, but it's rooted in action. Gamers play a dishwasher in a lab who discovers that her entire study group--undergraduate advisor, grad students and all--have been sucked into a photosynthetic cell. So it's time to pilot a microscopic craft to the rescue. If that sounds exciting, wait until you have to dodge the ranging proteosomes that try to gobble your intracellular spaceship whole. Adventure aside, Meta!Blast helps students "to understand that the cell is a very complex and beautiful world," says game designer Eve Wurtele, a biologist at Iowa State University in Ames. Case in point: Your ship is powered by adenosine-5'-triphosphate (ATP). If you use too much of the cellular fuel, you sputter to a stop. Play Meta!Blast here.

Honorable Mention

Build-a-Body Build-a-Body
Build-a-Body
Credit: Jeremy Friedberg (Game Designer/Producer), Nicole Husain (Content & Writing), Ian Wood (Programming), Genevieve Brydson (Project Management), Wensi Sheng (3-D Graphics, Compositing/Post-Production), Lorraine Trecroce (3-D Graphics, Project Management), Kariane St-Denis (French Translation), David Rowe (Post-Production, Programming, Testing), Ruby Pajares (UI Design), Arij Al Chawaf (Content & Writing), Shaun Rana (Graphics), Nancy Reilly (Testing), Spongelab Interactive

Build-a-Body lets eighth- to 12th-graders play transplant surgeon. Gamers piece together the human body's systems by dragging and dropping organs into place. After plopping the small intestine into the abdomen, for example, you then score more points by figuring out how it joins to the large intestine looping around. "You're building [the body] from the ground up here," says game designer Jeremy Friedburg of Spongelab Interactive. The game's a colorful introduction to the human body. But it doesn't stop once students have completed the systems. Build-a-Body also generates an evolving list of "case studies." Pop-up windows highlight the symptoms of various illnesses such as celiac disease, and players, now diagnostic physicians, decide what systems those diseases target. Play Build-a-Body here.

Honorable Mention

Powers of Minus Ten Powers of Minus Ten
Powers of Minus Ten
Credit: Laura Lynn Gonzalez, Green-Eye Visualization

In Powers of Minus Ten, developed by Laura Lynn Gonzalez of Green Eye Visualization, players take a scavenger hunt through the skin on the human hand and into individual cells. Gonzalez's game is loosely based on the famous 1968 short film "Powers of Ten", which traveled from outer space, then deep into the human body. When players zip past the skin on the hand and enter a cell, they see animated chromosomes and proteins buzzing like Las Vegas street signs. Kids can tap on these cellular structures to learn more about them. The game is constantly evolving: Players will soon be able to delve inside the mitochondria and even zoom down to the atomic level, Gonzalez says. Play Powers of Minus Ten here.

People's Choice

Velu the Welder Velu the Welder
Velu the Welder
Credit: Muralitharan Vengadasalam, Ganesh Venkat, Vignesh Palanimuthu, Fabian Herrera, Ashok Maharaja, Tata Consultancy Services

Learning to weld takes patience and nimble fingers. In this interactive challenge, the brainchild of developers at Tata Consultancy Services in Chennai, India, players step into a virtual apprentice workshop. They follow in the footsteps of Velu, a young Indian man getting a crash course in welding. First, Velu's stand-ins get a lesson in gas welding, completing basic welding moves on pieces of scrap metal. After that, they graduate to arc welding, joining metal pieces together to make a frame. The aim is to provide marketable skills to school dropouts in India.

Video (screen shots)

First Place and People's Choice

Rapid Visual Inventory and Comparison of Complex 3D Structures Rapid Visual Inventory and Comparison of Complex 3D Structures Rapid Visual Inventory and Comparison of Complex 3D Structures
Rapid Visual Inventory and Comparison of Complex 3D Structures
Credit: Graham T. Johnson, The Scripps Research Institute and grahamj.com; Andrew Noske, National Center for Microscopy & Imaging Research; Bradley Marsh, Institute for Molecular Bioscience, University of Queensland

This still depiction of a mouse pancreatic cell shows thousands of irregularly shaped organelles huddling around a central and bean-shaped nucleus. Later in the video, researchers simplify the cell's components and sort them by organelle, grouping together the mitochondria (green) and insulin granules (blue), then clumping these and other organelles together to form uniform columns and rows for easy comparison and understanding.
Video icon and right arrow with word Video

Honorable Mention

High Density Energy Storage Using Self-Assembled Materials High Density Energy Storage Using Self-Assembled Materials
High Density Energy Storage Using Self-Assembled Materials
Credit: Christopher E. Wilmer, Omar K. Farha, Patrick E. Fuller, Northwestern University

In one of the most famous scenes of the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey", futuristic spaceships spin and twirl to "The Blue Danube" by Johann Strauss. Christopher Wilmer and colleagues at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., kick off their video with that same whimsical waltz. Wilmer's work focuses on how gaseous fuel molecules such as methane cling to solids. Unlike liquid gasoline, gaseous methane--a much cleaner energy source--is tough to squeeze into automobile gas tanks. But when scientists add special porous crystals to those tanks, methane begins to cluster inside the pores, greatly increasing the gas's density. Wilmer's team employs computer algorithms to screen thousands of possible crystal structures to identify the ones best suited to concentrating methane and other gases.
Video icon and right arrow with word Video

Honorable Mention

There's No Such Thing as a Jellyfish There's No Such Thing as a Jellyfish There's No Such Thing as a Jellyfish
There's No Such Thing As a Jellyfish
Credit: Steven Haddock, Susan Von Thun, MBARI and jellywatch.org

Portuguese man o' wars, comb jellies and larvaceans may all look gooey and diaphanous, but they're also very different animals, according to this video by marine biologist Steven Haddock and colleagues at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Moss Landing, Calif. Haddock and his crew shot the creatures in this video from a deep-sea submersible below California's Monterey Bay. There are long and billowing sea nettles belonging to a class of animals called Scyphozoa, and Siphonophores such as the purple and sometimes deadly Portuguese man o' wars. Many of these organisms live as gigantic super-organisms, in which many individuals have specialized to take on different roles.
Video icon and right arrow with word Video
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