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The Vizzies


2010 Winners

Captions from Kristen Minogue, Science 331: 847-856 (2011). Full story in Science magazine.


First Place

Rough Waters
Seth B. Darling, Argonne National Laboratory, Steven J. Sibener, University of Chicago

Don't take the title literally. The ripples Seth Darling of Argonne National Laboratory and Steven Sibener of the University of Chicago, both in Illinois, captured with an atomic force microscope may look like the surface of an ocean, but they are a mere nanometer deep, and there's not a drop of water in sight.

The rich shades of turquoise and indigo are artificial, but the choppy waves are real. They are formed by millions of molecules arranging themselves on a gold surface. These "self-assembled monolayers" come with a head that clings to the surface and a tail that sticks out into the environment. Darling compares it to dumping a bowl of wet spaghetti on the floor and "all of a sudden it stands up as if it were uncooked spaghetti on end. That's kind of a weird thing to happen."

Honorable Mention

Tomato seed microphotograph

Trichomes (Hairs) on the Seed of the Common Tomato
Robert Rock Belliveau

Tomato seeds have hair. Not the ordinary, dead protein that hangs limply off human scalps. These trichomes secrete an insect-repelling, flavor-inducing mucus that helps give tomatoes their signature taste while acting as a natural bug spray. Robert Rock Belliveau took this photo of a 2mm x 3mm tomato seed last April. The color contrast comes from the polarizing microscope he uses, which has both transmitted and reflected light capabilities. The thinner parts at the edge of the seed (purple) are viewed with transmitted light while the trichomes on the top of the seed (red) are viewed with reflected light.

Honorable Mention

Centipede Millirobot
Katie L. Hoffman, Robert J. Wood, Harvard University

Imitating insects is all the rage in robotics right now. Graduate student Katie Hoffman based this 12-legged, segmented robot on the body morphology of a centipede. The top view shows the actuators that control each leg, the reflection shows the flexible connections between the segments, and the penny gives a sense of the robot's size. Hoffman says most robots that size mimic cockroaches, which have only six legs and much more rigid bodies. By modeling a centipede, she hopes to study how flexibility and body undulations enhance locomotion.


First Place

Human Immunodeficiency Virus 3D
Ivan Konstantinov, Yury Stefanov, Aleksander Kovalevsky, Yegor Voronin, Visual Science Company

At first glance, it could pass for a piece of crochet, a fluffy gray and orange ball. But its real-world counterpart is far more destructive: It claims an estimated 2 million lives a year and has wreaked more global havoc than some wars.

Ivan Konstantinov's winning illustration reduces HIV to unnerving simplicity. His team at the Visual Science Company in Moscow spent months combing through the latest research, compiling data from more than 100 papers and assembling the information into a coherent image of a 100-nanometer HIV particle. They depicted the proteins in just two basic colors: Gray equals host, orange equals virus.

Honorable Mention

Map of links between mustard plant genes

AraNet: A Genome-wide Gene Function Association Network for Arabidopsis thaliana
Insuk Lee, Michael Ahn, Edward Marcotte, Seung Yon Rhee, Carnegie Institution for Science

Picture DNA on Facebook. The image to the left is a map of links between the genes of the mustard plant Arabidopsis thaliana. Genes involved in the same biological process are connected by lines: red for more certain links, blue for less certain links. "It's not unlike a social network," says biologist Seung Yon Rhee.

Honorable Mention

Enterobacteria Phage T4
Jonathan Heras, Equinox Graphics Ltd.

One judge compared this illustration of a virus attacking an Escherichia coli bacterium to something out of a 1950s science-fiction film. That's not too far from the creator's view, either. Before creating it, chemical engineer Jonathan Heras says he knew almost nothing about viruses. When he first saw a depiction of one in a textbook, he admits not believing it, until he looked at microscopic images: "It really did have these spindly legs and this really alien, weird appearance."

Honorable Mention

Yeast cell

Proposed Structure of Yeast Mitotic Spindle
The Mitotic Spindle Group, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

This is a depiction of a yeast cell about to divide, a stage biologists call metaphase. Green microtubules prepare to pull apart 16 pairs of chromosomes (yellow) in a process scientists still don’t fully understand. It's the product of 2 years of collaboration among biologists, physicists, computer scientists and artists, but it's still a work in progress. "This is our version 20 of probably 50 we're going to end up doing," says computer scientist Russell Taylor.

Informational Graphics

First Place

Introduction to Fungi
Kandis Elliot, Mo Fayyaz, University of Wisconsin, Madison

For senior artist Kandis Elliot, postermaking is one of the best tasks of the job. Her series of educational posters started 4 years ago, when greenhouse and garden director Mo Fayyaz of the University of Wisconsin (UW), Madison, asked for a fruit poster. Introduction to Fungi is just the latest--and one of the hardest, because the botany department lacks a mycologist. And Elliot didn't want to settle for a simple mushroom poster. "There's a gazillion of those things," Elliot says. "We wanted something that shows fungi as mushrooms but something more than mushrooms. Your beer, your wine, and your bread. The stuff on the back of your fridge."

The beer and wine are easy enough to spot in the center of this poster. Other specimens include gourmet delicacies, such as truffles and the mold on bleu cheese, and the less savory stinkhorns, whose stench attracts carrion beetles to disperse their spores. It also features some unfriendly fungi, such as the culprit behind white-nose syndrome, a mysterious white fungus that grows on hibernating bats and seems to kill them by leading to starvation.

Honorable Mention

Everyone Ever in the World
Peter Crnokrak, The Luxury of Protest

The poster represents roughly what the title says: every person who lived and died on the planet, from 3200 B.C.E. to 2009 C.E. The total paper area represents the 78 billion people who lived over the past 5,000 years. The gaping hole in the center represents every person who died in a major war, genocide, or massacre: approximately 969 million people, or 1.25% of the total number of people who have ever lived on the planet.

Interactive Games

No award made in this category

Noninteractive Multimedia

First Place

SENSEable City Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Many people know about the supply chain. They care about whether their fruit is organic, whether their chickens are freerange, whether the products they buy are domestically manufactured or imported. But the other end of the consumer chain--where all the used products go after they're dumped in the trash--is murkier.

Dietmar Offenhuber and his colleagues at the SENSEable City Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge wanted to bring that side of consumerism to light. So they stuck location sensors onto 3,000 pieces of trash to see where the garbage ended up months later.

While most of it remained in Washington state, after a week some had seeped into Oregon and Idaho. In 2 weeks, some of the cell phones had gone as far as Florida. The end of the 2 months found fluorescent light bulbs in the Midwest, batteries in Michigan, and printer cartridges in Mexico.


Honorable Mention

GPS satellites

GPS and Relativity
Damian Pope, Greg Dick, Sean Bradley, Steve Kelley, Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics

Damian Pope made this video for any non-scientists who think relativity matters only to theoretical physicists and Star Trek fans who want to know how many laws of physics the series has broken. Millions of people use relativity every day--in their GPS receivers.

GPS satellites orbit at an altitude of 20,000 kilometers. The problem: Time moves 38 microseconds a day faster at that altitude than on Earth's surface. That may not seem like much, but after a month, it could throw the GPS system off by more than 300 kilometers. The solution: Slow down the satellite clocks so they tick 38 microseconds less every day. Just one more reason to thank Einstein.


Honorable Mention

Glyph shapes to display motion

Amit Chourasia, Emmett Mcquinn, Bernard Minster, Jurgen Schulze, San Diego Supercomputer Center, UCSD

For earthquake scientists, predicting when the next "big one" will strike is the million-dollar question. But predicting how much damage it will do is just as important--and almost as uncertain. Knowing exactly how seismic waves transform the landscape could offer clues.

Seismologists have made numerous attempts to model seismic waves passing through Earth. But depicting their direction is difficult. Arrows or cones are ambiguous because viewed from the very front or the very back, they have the same shape: a circle. Amit Chourasia and his team at the University of California, San Diego, devised a straightforward solution: Use simple glyph shapes, such as spheres or ellipsoids, with a white dot on the end moving toward the observer and a black dot on the end moving away. By varying size and color to show magnitude, the method can display any kind of motion intuitively, from a major earthquake on the San Andreas fault to magnetic turbulence in stars millions of light-years from Earth.


Honorable Mention

Computer Simulation of a Binary Quasar
Thomas J. Cox, Carnegie Institution for Science

Galaxy mergers rank among the most violent and spectacular events in the cosmos. In a dance that can last billions of years, spiral arms of stars are thrown out into sweeping tails, and clouds of dust and gas are shoved into the center where, according to the prevailing theory, a supermassive black hole waits to consume them. Most astronomers think that all the gas pouring in will excite the black holes into quasars, the brightest objects in the universe, and that many merging galaxies will evolve into "binary quasars," two quasars circling each other until their host galaxies unite.


Honorable Mention

Visualization of the Whole Brain Catalog
Drew Berry, Mark Ellisman, François Tétaz, The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research

Animator Drew Berry and his neurobiologist colleagues take you on a journey deep inside the mouse brain. The video brings to life data from the Whole Brain Catalog, a massive database of microscopy and other data sets on the mouse brain, under development at the University of California, San Diego. It opens with a mouse sniffing a camera--a fitting image, says Berry, because the part of the brain that stores memory also controls the sense of smell. The video then zooms in on the mouse brain, focusing on the hippocampus, the headquarters of scent and memory. From there it isolates the dentate gyrus (upper right), the region that recognizes smells and creates new memories. Individual brain cells then start to appear. Finally, a new connection forms between two neurons, representing the creation of a new memory.


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