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.
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.
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.
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.