The Best Science & Engineering Visualizations of the Year

Science and engineering's most powerful statements are not made from words alone: the National Science Foundation (NSF) along with the journal Science last week announced the winners of the ninth annual International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge

The Cosmic Web

Graphics (Winner)

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.

Miguel Angel Aragon-Calvo, Johns Hopkins University; Julieta Aguilera, Mark SubbaRao, Adler Planetarium

The Ebola Virus

Graphics (Honorable Mention)

Ivan Konstantinov and colleagues at the Russia-based group Visual Science drew on existing scientific information to depict the 3D structure of the Ebola virus, responsible for fatal outbreaks of hemorrhagic fever throughout much of Africa.

Ivan Konstantinov, Yury Stefanov, Alexander Kovalevsky, Anastasya Bakulina, Visual Science

Transmission Electron Microscopy: Structure, Function and 3D Reconstruction

Graphics (People's Choice)

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, Maryland, dismantle a transmission electron microscope (TEM) piece by piece--all without damaging expensive lab equipment.

Fabian de Kok-Mercado, Victoria Wahl-Jensen, Laura Bollinger, NIAID IRF

Metabolomic Eye

Photography (Winner)

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 in this image.

Bryan William Jones, The University of Utah, Moran Eye Center

Microscopic Image of Trichomes on the Skin of an Immature Cucumber

Photography (Honorable Mention)

A close-up, vibrant shot of a young cucumber using a polarizing microscope.

Robert Rock Belliveau

The Cliff of the Two-Dimensional World

Photography (People's Choice)

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 and seen under an electron microscope.

Babak Anasori, Michael Naguib, Yury Gogotsi, Michel W. Barsoum, Drexel University

Foldit

Interactive Games (Winner)

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 3D structure that fits the laws of chemistry.

Center for Game Science at University of Washington

Meta!Blast 3D Interactive Application for Cell and Metabolic Biology. Level 1: The Cell

Interactive Games (Honorable Mention)

Meta!Blast 3D aims to teach novices about the cell, but it's rooted in action. Gamers play a lab dishwasher who discovers that her entire study group--undergraduate advisor, grad students and all--have been sucked into a photosynthetic cell.

W. Schneller, P.J. Campbell, M. Stenerson, D. Bassham, E.S. Wurtele, Iowa State University

Powers of Minus Ten

Interactive Games (Honorable Mention)

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.

Laura Lynn Gonzalez, Green-Eye Visualization

Build-a-Body

Interactive Games (Honorable Mention)

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.

Spongelab Interactive

Velu the Welder

Interactive Games (People's Choice)

Learning to weld takes patience and nimble fingers. In this interactive challenge, the brainchild of developers at Tata Consultancy Servnces 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.

Muralitharan Vengadasalam, Ganesh Venkat, Vignesh Palanimuthu, Fabian Herrera, Ashok Maharaja, Tata Consultancy Services

Tumor Death-Cell Receptors on Breast Cancer Cell

Illustrations (Honorable Mention)

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.

Emiko Paul, Quade Paul, Echo Medical Media; Ron Gamble, UAB Insight

Variable-Diameter Carbon Nanotubes

Illustrations (Honorable Mention)

Nanostructures, as the name implies, are much too small to see. But using 3D modeling techniques and some guesswork, graphic artist Joel Brehm renders a handful of these ultrathin structures visible to the naked eye.

Joel Brehm, Office of Research and Economic Development, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Exploring Complex Domain Functions Using Domain Coloring

Illustrations (Honorable Mention)

Complex 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.

Konstantin Poelke, Konrad Polthier, Free University of Berlin

Separation of a Cell

Illustrations (People's Choice)

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. That gives scientists the ability to target and view chromosomes in detail as they peel apart during mitosis.

Andrew Noske, Thomas Deerinck, National Center for Microscopy & Imaging Research; Horng Ou, Clodagh O'Shea, Salk Institute

The Best Science & Engineering Visualizations of the Year

Science and engineering's most powerful statements are not made from words alone: the National Science Foundation (NSF) along with the journal Science last week announced the winners of the ninth annual International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge

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