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How beautiful is your science?

Speed read
  • NSF’s annual challenge rewards the most compelling visualizations in science and engineering
  • Skillful visualizations make scientific knowledge more accessible to more people
  • Cast your vote for the People’s Choice award

Scientists make amazing discoveries every day, adding to the ever-growing store of knowledge about our world. But outside of classrooms and conference presentations, how does that information get shared with the public? How are new theories and new ideas disseminated in a way that makes those discoveries vivid, interesting, and relevant?

Put your mind to it. Artist Greg Dunn invented the technique of reflective microetching to illuminate the wonder of the human brain. Courtesy Greg Dunn; Will Drinker.

Enter the 15th Anniversary Vizzies. A co-production of the US National Science Foundation (NSF) and Popular Science, this annual visualization challenge aims to identify and reward the most beautiful visualizations from the worlds of science and engineering.

Entries are accepted in five categories: photo, illustration, poster/graphic, interactive, and video. Each needs to convey science, technology, engineering, or mathematics principles, explaining some aspect of the world that people don't typically see.

<strong>Form and function at the molecular level.</strong> Illustration, 3D modeling, and informative text demystify the nanoscale bacterial flagellar motor. Courtesy NSF.

This year’s entries range from a poster explaining the apparatus that allows a chameleon to capture its prey with tremendous speed and accuracy to a photograph of the multi-colored beauty of fossilized dinosaur bone under the microscope.

“Self Reflected,” a finalist in the video category, combines art and science in an attempt to transform how we view the human brain. The artists used reflected light to create animated images of the brain’s elaborate electrical choreography, simulating the brain’s behavior in response to neural activity, such as dancing, petting a cat, or typing an email.

The interactive category offers several educational modules, such as a virus explorer, a gamelike tour of a human cell designed for first-year college students, and a lexical database of American Sign Language (ASL).

<strong>Data tales. </strong>Advanced visualization transforms statistics into stories about the critical issues that face the United States. Courtesy Data USA.

DATA USA uses an open-source visualization engine to power an interactive website that makes existing US government data more accessible to researchers and citizens. Visitors can conduct their own analyses or browse illustrated profiles such as “What Do Millenials Do?” and “Global Diversity in Washington, DC.”

The ten finalists in each category will be judged on their visual impact, effective communication, and originality, and winners will be announced in March.

But from now until December 4th, you can exercise your own unique brain and cast a vote (in the People’s Choice category) for the best-looking science out there.

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