The 2017 Vizzies, a prize awarded annually by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Popular Science, honors the best use of visual media to communicate scientific research and data in the past year.
A team of experts appointed by the NSF winnowed entries down to 50 finalists, ten in each of five categories—illustration, photography, interactive, video, and poster and graphic. After the entries, which came from academic researchers, artists, and hobbyists, were narrowed down, judges weighed in to select a winner. The public was also given a chance to vote for a people's choice winner in each category.
In the video category, the experts' winner went to Network Earth, shown above, by Mauro Martino (creator and director of IBM's Cognitive Visualization Lab), Jianxi Gao, Baruch Barzel, and Albert-László Barabási, with narration by Shamini Bundell. Martino and his team wanted to create a film that shows the interconnections between all life on Earth, feels relevant to viewers around the world, and aims to show that "math can be poetically expressed visually." The people's choice winner went to Mark SubbaRao, Patrick McPike, and Mike Brown for their film Planet Nine, created for Chicago's Adler Planetarium and using Brown's research to find a new planet in our solar system to show visitors how such scientific explorations unfold.
[Readers who want to know more about Mike Brown and his work should watch Conversations with a Scientist: Michael Brown, made for Science NetLinks. It accompanies the lesson Is Pluto a Planet? You can learn more about the potential new ninth planet in our solar system in this video.]
In the interactive category, the app Flyover Country from Shane Loeffler, Amy Myrbo, Sijia Ai, Reed McEwan, and Alex Morrison got the nod from the experts. The app uses GPS signals to show people on airplanes the topography and special geoscience features of what they're flying over. The popular winner was ASL-LEX: A visualization of American Sign Language from Naomi Caselli, Zed Sevcikova Sehyr, Ariel Cohen-Goldberg, Ben Tanen, and Karen Emmorey. Because ASL, the physical language used by deaf Americans, is challenging to organize in a similar way to a print dictionary, this database organizes 1,000 signs into groups based on things like similar handshape or movement and sizes the entries according to how often they're used.
Among photographs, the experts' winner was "A Hungry Starfish Larva" by William Gilpin, Vivek N. Prakash, and Manu Prakash, an elaborate time-lapse photo imaged and combined into a single photo. The image shows all of the vortices the starfish makes when it moves its hundreds of elaborate, tube-like feet, stirring the water and pulling algae into the starfish's mouth. The people's choice winner was "The Octobot: A Completely Soft Machine," from Lori K. Sanders, Ryan L. Truby, Michael Wehner, Robert J. Wood, and Jennifer A. Lewis, a picture of a 3-D printout of a soft robot dyed in fluorescent colors to help visualize the inner workings.
In the poster and graphics category, "Here there be robots" by Eleanor Lutz was the experts' choice. Lutz used NASA's data to create a map of Mars styled after Victorian examples of world maps, calling to mind a time when cartographers were visualizing a world just being explored. The popular winner was Esther Ng's poster, "The Micro-pumping Mechanism of Hummingbirds Tongues," which visualizes what this tiny bird's tongue looks like as it pumps nectar from flowers into its beak.
Finally, David S. Goodsell won the illustration category with "Zika Virus," a zoomed-in image that used more than 10,000 images captured by a high-resolution technique called cryo-electron microscopy. The experts selected "Self Reflected under white, red, and violet light" by Greg Dunn, Brian Edwards, and Will Drinker. Their image—which combined hand drawings, optical engineering, gilding (the process of etching into gold), and other artistic and technical processes—used information from dozens of scientific sources to accurately depict the brain's 500,000 neurons at work.
You can find additional STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) resources on Science NetLinks. Start with the blog post, STEAM 101: Where Art and Science Collide, read the answers to Jie Qi's 5 Questions with a Scientist, and then check out some of the other outstanding STEAM projects we've profiled.
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