These photos and illustrations took top awards in the 2012 International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge, which is sponsored by NSF and the journal Science. From top:
Biomineral Single Crystals
Credit: Pupa U. P. A. Gilbert and Christopher E. Killian; University of Wisconsin, Madison
These fantastical structures are the microscopic crystals that make up a sea urchin’s tooth. Each shade of blue, aqua, green, and purple—superimposed with Photoshop on a scanning electron micrograph (SEM)—highlights an individual crystal of calcite, the abundant carbonate mineral found in limestone, marble, and shells. The curved surfaces of the crystals look nothing like normal calcite crystal faces. Instead of flat sides and sharp edges, the sea urchin produces “incredibly complex, intertwined” curved plates and fibers that interlock and fill space in the tooth as they grow. Though made of a substance normally as soft as chalk, the teeth are hard enough to grind rock, gnawing holes where the sea urchins take shelter from rough seas and predators.
Credit: Kai-hung Fung, Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital in Hong Kong
This is no shell game, but a matter of life or death. The clam (left) can snap its bivalve shell shut at the first sign of a threat. The whelk (right) has evolved another strategy: The spiral shell provides a series of barricades to potential invaders. This dramatic example of two different evolutionary strategies for self-defense caught the eye of radiologist Kai-hung Fung.
To create this image Fung used a CT scanner to visualize thin slices of the whelk and clam, then rendered their contours in rainbow colors to highlight their complex structures. Creating such images involves balancing “two sides of a coin,” he says. “One side is factual information, while the other side is artistic.”
X-ray micro-radiography and microscopy of seeds
Credit: Viktor Sykora, Charles University; Jan Zemlicka, Frantisek Krejci, and Jan Jakubek, Czech Technical University
Furred, fringed, and barbed, these fruits with tiny seeds are each no bigger than 3 mm across. To image the seeds’ fine detail, the team used high-resolution, high-contrast x-rays (left) along with traditional microscopy (right). Although high-resolution x-rays are commonly used to visualize the internal structures of small objects without destroying them, according to the authors it has never before been applied to the visualization of seeds.
Connectivity of a Cognitive Computer Based on the Macaque Brain
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
Inspired by the neural architecture of a macaque brain, this ghostly neon swirl is the wiring diagram for a new kind of computer that, by some definitions, may soon be able to think. Over the past 2 years, IBM’s cognitive computing group in San Jose, Calif., has made great strides toward designing a computer that can detect patterns, plan responses, and learn from its mistakes, says Emmett McQuinn, a hardware engineer at IBM who designed the image.
Credit: Maxime Chamberland, David Fortin, and Maxime Descoteaux, Sherbrooke Connectivity Imaging Lab
A malignant brain tumor (red mass, left) of this person’s brain, wreathed by fine tracts of white matter. The red fibers signal danger: If severed by the neurosurgeon’s scalpel, their loss could affect the patient’s vision, perception, and motor function. Blue fibers show functional connections far from the tumor that are unlikely to be affected during surgery. Together, the red and blue fibers provide a road map for neurosurgeons as they plan their operations. Computer science graduate student Maxime Chamberland of the Sherbrooke Connectivity Imaging Lab in Canada produces images like these on a weekly basis, he says. Using an MRI technique that detects the direction in which water molecules move along the white matter fibers, he generates a three-dimensional image of functional connections
2012 International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge