2012 International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge Winners

national science foundation collage

The International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge by the National Science Foundation isn’t for the fainthearted. Every year, they find the most visually striking scientific art and design contenders of the following categories:

• Photography
• Illustration
• Posters and Graphics
• Games & Apps
• Video


close-up photo of sea urchin's tooth
First Place and People’s Choice
Credit: Pupa U. P. A. Gilbert and Christopher E. Killian; University of Wisconsin, Madison

First place and the people’s choice award goes to Biomineral Single Crystals. If I didn’t read the description, I would never have guessed that this is an extreme close-up of a sea urchin’s tooth! With the use of a scanning electron micrograph (SEM), you can clearly see the different shades of green, aqua, purple and blue which highlight the individual crystals of calcite, as well as the abundant carbonate mineral found in shells, marble and limestone.

photo of challenge winner national science foundation
Honorable Mention
Credit: Kai-hung Fung, Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital in Hong Kong

Self Defense was awarded the Honorable Mention for this photo of a clam and a whelk. Radiologist Kai-hung Fung created this dramatic example of two different evolutionary tactics for self-defense. He used a CT scanner and then later rendered their contours in various colors to emphasize the complex structures of these creatures. Creating such images involves balancing “two sides of a coin,” he says. “One side is factual information, while the other side is artistic.”

one of the winning photos during the NSF challenge
Honorable Mention
Credit: Viktor Sykora, Charles University; Jan Zemlicka, Frantisek Krejci, and Jan Jakubek, Czech Technical University

The X-ray micro-radiography and microscopy of seeds is awarded the Honorable Mention for this image that captures the seeds’ fine details. Using traditional microscopy and high-contrast, high-resolution x-rays, they were able to showcase these fringed, furred and barbed seeds that are no larger than 3mm across.


winning photo in illustration category
First Place
Credit: Emmett McQuinn, Theodore M. Wong, Pallab Datta, Myron D. Flickner, Raghavendra Singh, Steven K. Esser, Rathinakumar Appuswamy, William P. Risk, and Dharmendra S. Modha

First place in the Illustration category goes to Connectivity of a Cognitive Computer Based on the Macaque Brain which features a wiring diagram of a computer that may soon be able to think. Imagine a computer that can plan responses, learn from its mistakes and detect patterns. IBM’s cognitive computing group has been hard at work on this project for the past 2 years.

Posters & Graphics

challenge winner of poster and graphics category
First Place
Credit: Fabian de Kok-Mercado, Michael Habib, Tim Phelps, Lydia Gregg, and Philippe Gailloud, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Department of Art as Applied to Medicine

The Adaptations of the Owl’s Cervical & Cephalic Arteries in Relation to Extreme Neck Rotation helps us understand the mechanism that allows owls to swivel their heads 270 degrees. After obtaining 12 dead birds, the team examined three-dimensional images of the owls’ bones and blood vessels using a CT scanner. Researches found a link between swelling in the owls’ arteries that could be acting as a “backup” artery or an oxygen source when the head is turned.

For a complete list of all the winners for each category, visit the National Science Foundation’s website.

Patricia Ramos

Patricia Ramos

I am a freelance photographer who is no stranger to smudged lenses, long hours in front of the computer, heavy camera bags (and the back aches that ensued) and missing lens caps. If you know what I'm talking about, you probably have as much love and passion for photography as I do.