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VISUALIZATION CHALLENGE

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2017 Winners

Photography

Experts' Choice

A Hungry Starfish Larva
William Gilpin, Vivek N. Prakash, Manu Prakash

William Gilpin of Stanford University and his fellow researchers found out the school was offering classes at its marine village on the Pacific Ocean, so they headed out, ready for a break from the lab. What they ended up learning surprised them: Starfish move using hundreds of elaborate, tube-like feet and they also seem to control the waters around them.

A Hungry Starfish Larva is essentially an elaborate time-lapse photo, created when all of the vortices the starfish makes were imaged and combined into one surprisingly delicate image of the starfish's superpower. Those vortices aren't just for fun: They're for softly pulling algae into a starfish larva's tiny mouth.

People's Choice

The Octobot: A completely soft machine
Lori K. Sanders, Ryan L. Truby, Michael Wehner, Robert J. Wood, Jennifer A. Lewis

Soft robots, those made entirely out of squishy or flexible materials, are on the frontier of robotics. They're theoretically safer and more resilient than their metallic counterparts, but scientists haven't quite figured out practical ways to make every part of a robot cushiony and without sharp edges.

Octobot is a step in the right direction. It's entirely soft, powered by chemical reactions that push fluid and gas into its limbs. As Harvard University researchers worked to design the bot, they frequently used fluorescent dyes to better visualize its intricate inner-workings.

"To us, these dyes always made the 3D-printed Octobots so beautiful, and we thought that they would make for an awesome photograph," says study co-lead Ryan Truby. "We hope our photograph will appeal to the imaginations of both academic and broader audiences interested in robots and inspire a vision of future entirely soft robots like the Octobot."

Illustration

Experts' Choice

Self Reflected under white, red, and violet light
Greg Dunn, Brian Edwards, Will Drinker

Taking data from "essentially dozens if not hundreds" of scientific sources to create this intricate image of the brain, Greg Dunn, a neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania, and his team combined hand drawings, optical engineering, gilding (the process of etching into gold), and other artistic and technical processes to create this depiction of about 500,000 neurons hard at work.

It's "a reminder that the most incredible machine in the universe" is inside each of us, the team wrote.

This work was featured at the Franklin institute in Philadelphia with the goal of prompting viewers to consider what looking at an elaborate representation of the brain looks like from inside the brain. In addition to this image of the full brain viewed from the side, Dunn's team generated a variety of other works with different focuses and resolutions.

People's Choice

Zika Virus
David S. Goodsell

Every month, the Research Collaboratory for Structural Bioinformatics Protein Data Bank shares a "Molecule of the Month." This Zika virus had the honor of being the featured image for May 2016. The zoomed-in illustration reveals something of a topographic map of the infecting agent. It shows not just the envelope that encircles the virus, but also the RNA (in yellow) that lives inside it and allows it to replicate.

When the image was first published, scientists had been aware of the virus for almost 70 years, but understanding of the disease was limited.

"Study of Zika virus has gained new importance because of the recent spread of the virus in many countries around the globe and its connection to birth defects and a rare neurological disease,” the illustrator wrote at the time."

Posters & Graphics

Experts' Choice

Here there be robots
Eleanor Lutz

Eleanor Lutz isn't an astronomer, but she loves sifting through the data that NASA makes public. That's how she got the idea to map Mars - with a Victorian twist. "Unlike other planetary maps, this map uses a Victorian style inspired by medieval cartographers," Lutz says.

"Victorian-style maps are from a time when most of the world remained a mystery, and travelers only knew about nearby lands," says Lutz. "Now that people have mapped the entire globe, I think that Mars has taken over our collective imagination as the next mystery to explore. I wanted to make the geography of Mars more tangible to the general public."

What did Lutz consider the hardest part of the project? Fact-checking the name of each feature. "Since everything on the map is a proper noun, I had to go through and manually make sure every single landmark name and the name origin were spelled correctly."

Peoples' Choice

Micro-pumping mechanism of hummingbirds tongues
Esther Ng

When Esther Ng set out to visualize a hummingbird's tongue, she had no idea where her work would take her. At the time, no one was really sure what a hummingbird tongue looked like, though new discoveries about the little bird's micro-pumping abilities were all the rage. "It's so tiny," says Ng, a student at the University of Illinois. "Even with a video, it's very hard to catch."

To fix this, she headed to the Field Museum in Chicago. "They let me borrow [the bird] to look under a microscope, to pull the tongue out and draw how it is," she says. It was nothing like she imagined, but those surprises are what make her work so enjoyable.

Interactive

Experts' Choice

Flyover Country
Shane Loeffler, Amy Myrbo, Sijia Ai, Reed McEwan, Alex Morrison

Shane Loeffler started working on his app, Flyover Country, when he realized his work in the geosciences provided him with a unique -- and entertaining -- view on flying. "I was flying over the San Rafael Swell," says Loeffler, "and I could look down and I had been down there hitting those rocks with hammers, and now I'm above, reading a Wikipedia article [about the features below]."

The app uses GPS signals to show people the topography of the land beneath them as well as special features, like sites where dinosaur fossils are embedded in the soil. Loeffler, who is working with a small team to further develop the app, says it can be used to enhance hiking and camping road trips, and other more Earth-bound activities as well.

People's Choice

ASL-LEX: A visualization of American Sign Language
Naomi Caselli, Zed Sevcikova Sehyr, Ariel Cohen-Goldberg, Ben Tanen, Karen Emmorey

American Sign Language (ASL) is a language like any other -- but it can't be easily organized like a traditional English dictionary. This and other barriers make it hard for parents of deaf children to aid them in language acquisition, says Naomi Caselli of Boston University. Caselli and her team decided to take all of the ASL data available to them and organize it in a new way.

ASL-LEX, a lexical database, organizes 1000 signs into groups based on things like similar handshape or movement. What's more, these little nodes are sized according to their common usage. So a word like "book" is a little easier to find than a word like "castle." It's already helping hearing teachers and parents communicate with deaf children and, Caselli says, the researchers are working hard to ensure that trend continues.

Video

Experts' Choice

Network Earth
Mauro Martino, Jianxi Gao, Baruch Barzel,
Albert-László Barabási. Narration: Shamini Bundell

"The situation is very tragic," data visualizer Mauro Martino says of climate change. Many scientists have dedicated decades of their lives and careers to research potential disasters and the effects of changing weather patterns and changes in the Earth's climate. Martino strives to turn their data into upbeat, visual stories that people want to watch, learn from and share with their friends.

In "Network Earth," Martino and his team created a film that shows the interconnections between all life on Earth. It was created to accompany a research paper on Earth's resilience, published in Nature. While the paper was theoretical, Martino says, the video aims to show that "math can be poetically expressed visually" and to feel real and tangible to viewers around the world.

Video

Planet Nine
Mark SubbaRao, Patrick McPike, Mike Brown

When researchers Michael Brown and Konstantin Batygin published the best-ever evidence for the existence of a ninth planet -- a massive world orbiting in the farthest reaches of our solar system -- the hunt for the mysterious celestial body captured the public's imagination. This video for Chicago's Adler Planetarium uses that fascinating research to show visitors how such scientific explorations unfold.

"Our goal with this show was not to teach people about Planet Nine, and it certainly wasn't to convince them that the Planet Nine exists, " says Patrick McPike, a visual engineer at the planetarium. "The show is really about the excitement and process of the scientific discovery. We hope that the show gets people more involved in science, whether that is by following science news more closely or by studying it themselves."

Video

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