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Save our earth. Let's go green

Sometimes the grand ideas behind science's most important and intriguing concepts are so abstract they can be difficult to understand. One of the main goals of the International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge, sponsored by the journal Science and the National Science Foundation, is to help bring these scientific concepts to life through stunning visualizations.

The photographs, illustrations, video, and interactive graphics submitted by the contest's participants are meant to help us understand both the beauty and the science behind life's many secrets. This gallery shows just a few of the winners, which were announced Friday.

This image, called "Save our earth. Let's go green," was this year's winning entry, created by Sung Hoon Kang, Joanna Aizenberg, and Boaz Pokroy from Harvard University. The photo was taken through an electron microscope and shows self-assembling polymers designed by the team. They hope to use the hair-like fibers to create more energy-efficient materials.

Caption:Photo:Sung Hoon Kang, Joanna Aizenberg, and Boaz Pokroy
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Microbe vs. Mineral - A Life and Death Struggle in the Desert Microbe vs. Mineral - A Life and Death Struggle in the Desert

This image by chemist Michael Zach of the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point got honorable mention in the photography category. Light passing through prism-like growing salt crystals collected from a sample near Death Valley National Park in California created these rainbow flares.

For more information on the contest and the winning entries, click here.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Michael P. Zach, University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point
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Flower Power

During their experiments at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Briana Whitaker and Briana Carstens captured this flower-like image of polymers just 10 micrometers tall. While researching the state of cells that bind together skin wounds, the polymers, which are usually stacked in a pillar, fell over, creating this colorful pattern. The resulting image won honorable mention in the photography category.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Russell Taylor, Briana K. Whitaker, and Briana L. Carstens, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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Heiti Paves of Tallinn University of Technology in Estonia photographed the self-fertilizing thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana), staining its pollen and ovaries blue. This image also won honorable mention in the photography category.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Dr. Heiti Paves and Birger Ilau, Tallinn University of Technology
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Lobachevsky vs. Euclid

Richard Palais and Luc Benard of the University of California at Irvine tied for first place in the illustration category for this entry, "Kuen's Surface: A Meditation on Euclid, Lobachevsky, and Quantum Fields."

The piece is meant to represent the centuries of mathematical drama that followed Euclid's assertion that if you sketch a line and then draw a point off it, you can draw only one line that passes through that point and is parallel to the original line. The idea might seem logical. But mathematicians had a devil of a time proving Euclid's theory based on his other mathematical rules.

It was Nikolai Lobachevsky, a 19th century Russian mathematician, who showed that proving Euclid's theory cannot be done using his own principles.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Richard Palais and Luc Benard, University of California at Irvine
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Branching morphogenesis

Illustrating the forces lung cells exert as they form capillaries, this 3.5-meter-tall work composed of 75,000 cable zip ties depicts five snapshots from a computer simulation of lung endothelial cells pushing against and pulling on the protein matrix that surrounds them. The image, by biologist Peter Lloyd Jones and architect Jenny Sabin of the University of Pennsylvania's Sabin + Jones LabStudio, tied for first place in the illustration category.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Peter Lloyd Jones, Andrew Lucia, and Jenny E. Sabin, University of Pennsylvania's Sabin + Jones Lab Studio
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Jellyfish burger

Making the point that overfishing and climate change have significant consequences for marine ecosystems, marine scientist Jennifer Jacquet of the University of British Columbia in Canada and digital artist Dave Beck give a gross reminder that as numbers of large fish decrease and ocean temperatures rise, jellyfish are becoming more and more prevalent in our seas.

Updated:Caption:Photo:David Beck, Clarkson University and Jennifer Jacquet, University of British Columbia
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Back to the future

Mario De Stefano, Antonia Auletta, and Carla Langella from the 2nd University of Naples have been studying microscopic algae called diatoms. They believe humans can follow nature's lead in seeking new sources of energy and we should explore new ways to build microscopic cellular solar panels based on biology.

In the foreground of this illustration, we see a scan from an electron microscope, which shows the blue fans of diatom colonies from the species Licmophora flabellata that have attached themselves to a grain of sand with their gelatinous anchor called a peduncle. Behind, we see the theoretical nature-inspired solar units we may one day use to harvest energy.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Mario De Stefano, Antonia Auletta, and Carla Langella, The 2nd University of Naples
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Genomics Digital Lab: Cell Biology

Forget Rock Band and Madden; these biology-inspired video games designed by Jeremy Friedberg and Andrea Bielecki from Spongelab Interactive use games based around nature as educational problem-solving and thinking tools.

Updated:Caption:Photo: Jeremy Friedberg and Andrea Bielecki, Spongelab Interactive
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Follow the Money: Human Mobility and Effective Communities

The Web site Where's George? is a place to track dollar bills as they move around the country. This illustration, called "Follow the Money: Human Mobility and Effective Communities," maps the results, creating a picture of how people--and money--move. The illustration, from Christian Thiemann and Daniel Grady of Northwestern University, tied for first place in the non-interactive media category.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Christian Thiemann and Daniel Grady, Northwestern University
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Decision support system for tsunami early warning

Following the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and subsequent tsunami, Gregor Hochleitner, Christian Gredel, and Nils Sparwasser from the German Aerospace Center produced a video to introduce the advanced warning system, which combines data from underwater probes, orbiting global positioning system satellites, and floating buoys in a joint project from Germany and Indonesia called the German Indonesian Tsunami Early Warning System. Their entry won honorable mention in the non-interactive media category of the competition. (Click here to view it.)

Updated:Caption:Photo:Gregor Hochleitner, Christian Gredel and Nils Sparwasser, German Aerospace Center (DLR)
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Inside the brain: Unraveling the mystery of Alzheimer's disease

Stacy Jannis and her team at Jannis Productions in Silver Spring, Md., produced a video to describe the degrading processes behind Alzheimer's disease. The animation, which won honorable mention in the non-interactive media category, shows the microscopic damages that occur, explaining how the disease starts. (Click here to view it.)

Updated:Caption:Photo:Stacy Jannis, William Dempsey, and Rebekah Fredenburg, Jannis Productions
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