Every year, the International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge seeks to find the most visually striking scientific art and design. It's just announced the 2012 winners—and there are some amazing sights to be seen.

The first prize for an illustration went to Emmett McQuinn et al from IBM research, for the image above. It shows—though you wouldn't realize on first glance—a simulation of a macaque monkey's neural connections. It shows 4,000 centers of neuronal attachment, each represented as a dot along the ring, connected by more than 320,739 arcs. And you know what else? It's damn pretty.

But there are other great pieces of work, too. Like this striking microscopic image, which clinched first prize in the Photography category. Taken by Pupa Gilbert and Christopher Killian, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, it's a scanning electron microscope image of sea urchin teeth. It's so pretty, in fact, it actually won the People's Choice category, too.


And then there's this amazing visualization of the human heart. Put together by a team from the Barcelona Supercomputing Center using data from MRI scans, it shows in great details the amazingly complex contractions of the heart.


You can read about the other winners over on the National Science Foundation's website.