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National Science Foundation

2013 Winners

Discover the artistry behind the 2013 International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge winners as they explain the processes, techniques and thoughts behind their entries.

Credit: National Science Foundation

Captions from Mark Peplow, Science 343:599-610(2014). Full story in Science magazine.



First Place

Illustration showing hidden flow generated by small hairs (cilia) covering the surface of the coral
Invisible Coral Flows
Credit: Vicente I. Fernandez, Orr H. Shapiro, Melissa S. Garren, Assaf Vardi and Roman Stocker, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Invisible Coral Flows reveal the hidden flow generated by small hairs (cilia) covering the surface of the coral, between two coral polyps that are 3 mm apart. Two shots taken 1.5 hours apart are combined into a single image, showing how the coral is able to create a long-lasting whirlpool structure that alters the local environment and enhances the coral's ability to "breathe."

Honorable Mention

Image of leaf scales on Deutzia scabra photographed using polarised light microscopy
Stellate leaf hairs on Deutzia scabra
Credit: Stephen Francis Lowry, Steve Lowry Photography

These exuberant starbursts shoot from the leaves of Deutzia scabra, a deciduous shrub sometimes known as "Pride of Rochester." Its leaves are covered with tiny hairs tipped by stars a quarter-millimeter across, giving it a fuzzy texture that Japanese woodworkers sometimes use for fine polishing.

People's Choice

Image of micro-structure formation in polymers that self-assemble into different shapes ranging from grains to lines interconnected into complex patterns and meshes
Polymer Micro-structure Self-assembly
Credit: Anna Pyayt and Howard Kaplan, University of South Florida

This image demonstrates results of the study of micro-structure formation in polymers that self-assemble into different shapes ranging from grains to lines interconnected into complex patterns and meshes. It shows the microstructure of a 2-millimeter-long fragment of self-assembled polymers, which University of South Florida materials scientist Anna Pyayt is using to build miniature "lab-on-a-chip" devices for biomedical diagnostic applications.


First Place

 visualization resulting from core-to-core connectivity graph
Cortex in Metallic Pastels
Credit: Greg Dunn, Greg Dunn Design

Cortex in Metallic Pastels represents a stylized section of the cerebral cortex, in which axons, dendrites, and other features create a scene reminiscent of a copse of silver birch at twilight. An accurate depiction of a slice of cerebral cortex would be a confusing mess, says illustrator Greg Dunn, so he thins out the forest of cells, revealing the delicate branching structure of each neuron. Dunn combined his background in neuroscience and his love of Asian art, to create the sparse, striking illustrations of the brain.


Honorable Mention

Image of word cloud of words used in passwords printed on a blanket
Security Blanket
Credit: Lorrie Faith Cranor, Carnegie Mellon University

Security Blanket displays a multicolored "word cloud" of the 1000 most common passwords in the social gaming website, RockYou. The passwords were sized according to their frequency and colored according to their theme. The most common--"123456"--was chosen by three times as many people as the next most popular password.

People's Choice

image of man-sized sculpture of Human Hand, overlayed with Fluorescence Microscopy Images of Bacterial Biofilms
Human Hand Controlling Bacterial Biofilms
Credit: Lydia-Marie Joubert, Stanford University

In our war against bacteria, the microbes are winning. That somber message is writ large in this image of a human hand covered with Pseudomonas bacteria. Those colored green are resistant to antimicrobial treatment--only a rare few are red, indicating that they have been vanquished.

Posters & Graphics

First Place and People's Choice

illustration showing the steps to create fabric using nanomaterials
Wearable Power
Credit: Kristy Jost, Babak Anasori, Majid Beidaghi, Genevieve Dion and Yuri Gogotsi, Drexel University

Wearable Power conveys a new science and design concept for engineering materials for smart textiles. The end product shown on the model demonstrates the technical details of the knitted fabrics, and this 3-D-rendered garment can be sent to a computerized knitting machine and made within minutes. This approach bridges the gap between lab scale researchers, clothing designers and industrial manufacturers, and can have immediate applications in the medical, military and sportswear industries.

Honorable Mention

illustration showing stages of a bubble cluster and explanations
The Life Cycle of a Bubble Cluster: Insight from Mathematics, Algorithms, and Supercomputers
Credit: RobertI. Saye and James A. Sethian, UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Soap bubbles are often perceived as majestic, but the physics of popping bubbles in a foam are far from simplistic. Delving into the multi-scale phenomena underpinning bubble dynamics, one finds that there is host of challenges that need to be solved if one is to model and simulate foam behavior with computers. This poster tells part of this story, from the picturesque behavior of soap bubbles, to multi-scale physics and mathematical modeling, to simulation with powerful supercomputers.

Watch a video of the foam simulation

Honorable Mention

An illustration of the cycle that a rescued cold-stunned sea turtle undergoes
Effects of Cold-stunning on Sea Turtles
Credit: Katelyn McDonald and Timothy Phelps, Johns Hopkins University; Jennifer Dittmar, The National Aquarium

The poster describes the physiological changes that lead to cold-stunning in a series of beautiful anatomical illustrations that were all based on medical images, but were drawn and assembled using computer design software. It also shows how to identify a cold-stunned turtle and provides the number of a turtle stranding hotline.

Games & Apps

First Place

print screen of the EyeWire game
EyeWire: A Game to Map the Brain
Credit: Amy Robinson, William Silversmith, Matthew Balkam, Mark Richardson, Sebastian Seung, and Jinseop Kim, EyeWire

EyeWire is one of the fastest growing citizen science projects ever created. The game presents players with micrographs that show the neurons in a mouse's retina. The goal is to distinguish the twists and turns of a particular neuron in 3-D, in order to build up a complete map of the complex connections involved in vision.

Play the game

Honorable Mention

print screen of the earthviewer game
Credit: Mark Nielsen and Satoshi Amagai, Howard Hughes Medical Institute; Michael Clark, EarthBuzz Software, Ltd.; Blake Porch and Dennis Liu, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

EarthViewer is an iPad app that puts our planet's deep history at your fingertips. You can scroll through billions of years in a few seconds, watching how continents shift and how changes in solar luminosity, atmospheric composition, and climate interact. Designed as a classroom tool, students can use the app not only to see when and where key geological events took place, but also to learn about the Earth at those instances.

Learn more about this app

Honorable Mention

screenshot from the game DEEP

Deep-sea Extreme Environment Pilot (DEEP)
Credit: Daniel Rohrlick, Eric Simms, Cheryl Peach, Debi Kilb, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego; Charina Cain, Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography

DEEP is an educational game that allows users to pilot a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) to explore the deep ocean. Game features include exploring hydrothermal vent environments, maintaining an ocean observatory, and examining strange and unique organisms that survive in the harsh deep-sea habitat. Educators at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography developed the interactive game to inspire middle school pupils but acknowledge that its appeal is not limited to schoolchildren.

Play the game

People's Choice

screenshot from the game meta blast

Meta!Blast: The Leaf
Credit: Eve Syrkin Wurtele, William Schneller, Paul Klippel, Greg Hanes, Andrew Navratil and Diane Bassham, Iowa State University

Meta!Blast: The Leaf is a game that immerses the player on and in a leaf. Intended as a supplement to in-class instruction, it lets high school students pilot a miniature bioship across a strange landscape, which features nematodes and a lumbering tardigrade. They can dive into individual cells and zoom around a chloroplast, activating photosynthesis with their ship’s search lamp. By conveying the complexity and visual interest of a biological system, Eve Wurtele and her team seek to increase student engagement with science and encourage a strong foundation in STEM.

Play the game

Video (screen shots)

First Place

mage of Earth from outer space

Dynamic Earth Visualization Excerpt: Coronal Mass Ejection and Ocean/Wind Circulation
Credit: Greg Shirah and Horace Mitchell, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center; Tom Bridgman, Global Science & Technology, Inc.

The video segment, Coronal Mass Ejection and Ocean/Wind Circulation, is part of a longer film called Dynamic Earth: Exploring Earth's Climate Engine that has played to audiences in planetaria around the world.

The segment used real satellite data and six computational models to create a vision that is both beautiful and scientifically accurate. Its long, swooping scenes reveal how different parts of the climate system interact at very different scales.

"It's one of the top visualizations we've ever done," says Horace Mitchell, who leads NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio.

Video icon and right arrow with word Video

Honorable Mention

illustration showing stem cell renewal and differentiation
Credit: Ben Paylor, Mike Long, Jim Till, Janet Rossant, Mick Bhatia, David Murawsky and James Wallace, Stem Cell Network

StemCellShorts is a series of succinct, animated videos that introduce basic concepts in stem cell research. Each of the 1-minute videos answers a simple question about stem cells and is narrated by eminent scientists. The team, Ben Paylor at the University of British Columbia and Michael Long at the University of Toronto, is now expanding the series to cover adult and cancer stem cells, as well as ethical issues surrounding stem cell research. They hope that it will help foster informed public dialogue about the implications and future of the work.

Video icon and right arrow with word Video

Honorable Mention

graphic representation of the gut mucosa

Immunology of the Gut Mucosa
Credit: Doug Huff and Elizabeth Anderson, Arkitek Studios; Zoltan Fehervari, Nature Immunology; Simon Fenwick, Nature Reviews

This 3-D animation explores the role of the gut mucosa in the immune response, how it protects the individual against food-borne pathogens, and what happens when the system gets out of whack. It illuminates the inner workings of the gut mucosa as a defense mechanism for the body, to provide people with a greater appreciation for the complex processes involved, as well as a better understanding of why food-borne allergies occur.

Video icon and right arrow with word Video

Honorable Mention

3-d representation of leaf cells
Visualizing Leaf Cells From Within
Credit: Geoffrey J. Harlow, Shou Li, Albert C. Cruz, Jisheng Chen and Zhenbiao Yang, University of California, Riverside

Visualizing Leaf Cells from Within presents leaf cells simply and naturally, in bright orange, yellow, and red colors, and it provides viewers with basic knowledge of the pavement cell system. To clearly show the 3-D shape of pavement cells and their unique interlocking morphology, Geoffrey Harlow and Albert Cruz at the University of California, Riverside, utilized a z-stack video and a rotating 3-D image. The end result: a visually appealing look at pavement cells from every angle.

Video icon and right arrow with word Video

People’s Choice

image of a spherical nucleic acid
Spherical Nucleic Acids
Credit: Quintin Anderson, The Seagull Company; Chad Mirkin and Sarah Petrosko, Northwestern University

The floating golden sphere, bristling with corkscrew strands of RNA, drifts majestically toward the jostling lipid bilayer that surrounds a cell. Slowly, gently, it squeezes through the layer until it is inside the cell. Breezing across cell membranes is just one talent of these spherical nucleic acids (SNAs) developed by nanotechnology pioneer Chad Mirkin at Northwestern University and explained in the video created by Quintin Anderson of the scientific animation firm, The Seagull Company. The objective is to give the audience an overview of how the properties of SNAs make them favorable for therapeutic treatments and medical diagnostics.

Video icon and right arrow with word Video