10 of the Year's Most Beautiful Science Images

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Who knew an artificial neural network could be so pretty? The winners of Princeton's annual science photography contest, Art of Science, were announced a few days ago. And boy, are some of these images beautiful.

Every year, a jury of Princeton professors gets together to hum and haw over the thousands of images its students produce during their studies. The great thing about the competition is that it's totally open—undergrads, grads, and doc students from nearly every department apply, ranging from computer science to architecture to biology.

It's the best of both worlds: we get to ogle the beautiful images that result from years of intense research, but we miss all of the hard academic labor. [Art of Science]


East-West, West-East by Martin Jucker

Ever wonder what the winds look like as they move across the globe? This image visualizes the strong West to East wind patterns that dominate earth's weather systems (in blue), plus the East to West wind, mainly at the poles, in red. "As a result," explains author Martin Jucker, "atmospheric phenomena can travel around the globe, exchanging information even from remote places of the Earth easily."


Cobalt Blue by Jason Krizan

Krizan is part of chemistry research group called Cava Lab, which cooks up new materials. To do so, he and his peers heat new materials to 1400 degrees Celsius in alumina containers—and just like with regular cooking, stuff gets stuck on the pan. The group will often use molten glass, which beads and condenses the materials. This blue is from black cobalt oxide, beading inside of the molten glass.


Maze Dweller by Chhaya Werner

"That sweet little face peering out of a coral labyrinth is that of a a goby fish," explains Chhaya Werner, the undergrad who took this photo. "A goby fish is dependent on coral for its home, and in turn will often clean algae that would otherwise smother the coral." Symbiosis!


C. instagram by Meredith Wright

The hilariously named C. instagram shows C. elegans worms eating E. coli, which they gorge on before clumping together in these patterns. Meredith Wright caught the phenomenon using her smartphone—hence the name of the photo. "I've since shared the photo on social networking sites and have had friends who've never been interested in biology ask me more about my work because of this photo," she explains. "To me, this image represents the simple pleasure of finding something beautiful when you don't expect to, and it shows how easy it is to connect science with new audiences by simply clicking 'share.'"


Brainbow Rainbow by Jess Brooks, Esteban Engel, and Lynn Enquist

These kidney monkey cells are infected with a herpes virus, which makes the cells express colors that turn a variety of neon colors. That makes it easier for scientists to identity individual neurons and the circuits they form.


Crushed Birch by Michael Kosk

Why don't trees rot more easily? Mainly because of its hyper-dense cellular structure, which was broken apart and photographed as part of a material research course by Michael Kosk. Those patterns? They're the pathways that distribute water and nutrients through each layer of the tree.


Cocoa Engineering by Alex Jordan, Sigrid Adriaenssens, and Axel Kilian

This structural component—and its chocolate-welded hinges—were made entirely out of chocolate by engineering and architecture students. "While it sounds like something out of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, the idea has a serious goal," explains the group, "to systematically understand how the process of design can interact with unexplored materials." The curved shape has a remarkable strength-to-weight ratio of 24 times less than that of concrete.


Mirror Sphere by Sema Berkiten

I don't completely understand the technology behind this beautiful image, so I'll let author Sema Berkiten explain: "In computer vision, there are several methods to create a 3-D model of an object. One of them, called “photometric stereo,” uses multiple images of the object under different light directions. In this 3-D reconstruction technique, we need to calculate surface normals of the object as an intermediate step, and this picture is the result of that step. The image depicts the surface normals of a mirrored sphere... The surface normals depicted in this image are not all geometrically correct because the algorithm assumes that the surface is not shiny like a mirror, so what we see in this image are actually some artifacts caused by highlights and shadows."


Light Eddies by Mitchell A. Nahmias and Paul R. Prucnal

Nahmias and Prucnal are interested in increasing the speed of global communication. They imagine an artificial neural network , combined with current laser technology, that would deliver information at speeds even the fastest computers couldn't compete with today. "Our brains are composed of billions of individual cells called neurons, which communicate along millions of billions of channels with electrochemical signals," the duo explain. "This computer model visualizes a laser that behaves like a neuron by plotting a so-called 'phase space...' Studying these trajectories helps us understand how our devices emit and receive pulses of light that mimic the way in which neurons communicate."


Exposed by Ohad Fried

This face came from a completely anonymized video—in other words, when it arrived, the tape contained a blurred and unrecognizable human face. Using "mutual data" shared between each individual frame, Fried was able to reconstruct the original face. "The result," Fried explains, "is an intriguing 'ghost image' of the subject."