Art of Science 2013

Click through the top images from Princeton University's Art of Science Competition, which features images of artistic merit created during the course of scientific research.

Princeton University's Art of Science Competition highlights images produced during the course of scientific research that have aesthetic merit as well. The competition is open to the entire Princeton community. This image, "East-West, West-East," won first prize in the 2013 competition. Here's what Martin Jucker (Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences) says about his winning image: "The winds around our globe are preferentially directed from west to east, or east to west, and much less so in the north-south directions. As a result, atmospheric phenomena can travel around the globe, exchanging information even from remote places of the Earth easily. We see in the picture surfaces of constant wind around Earth, averaged over time. Blue is east-to-west, red west-to-east directed wind."

Second prize in the Art of Science Competition went to Michael Kosk for his photomicrograph of crushed birch wood. Kosk (Woodrow Wilson School, '16) explains what's going on in the image: "The dense cellular structure of wood is what protects it, in part, from microbes breaking apart cellulose and causing rot. In my materials science course, we broke apart the cellular structure of birch by resorting to mechanical strength, crushing it along a specific direction and buckling the cellulose pathways that would normally be responsible for the distribution of water and nutrients to the rest of the tree."

Third prize in the Art and Science contest goes to Paul Csogi and Chris Cane, webmasters for the Lewis Center for the Arts and the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. "We have placed the home pages of our respective websites into an HTML parser and graphical interface," they say. "These two embroidery-like figures visually give us an idea of the similarities and differences of a website devoted to science and one devoted to the arts. The Princeton Plasma Physics Lab site is represented at top left. Lewis Center for the Arts site is at lower right."

This computer graphic draws a parallel between fiber optics and neural networks. It was created by Mitchell Nahmias (graduate student) and Paul Prucnal (faculty) of Princeton's Department of Electrical Engineering: "By combining lasers with artificial neural networks, it may one day be possible to create high-speed processors that react to incoming data far faster than current computers could ever handle. ... This computer model visualizes a laser that behaves like a neuron by plotting a so-called 'phase space.' Notice that the lines swirl inwards like a whirlpool to converge at stable equilibrium points, indicating that the laser will stabilize over time."

Mingzhai Sun (postdoc) and Joshua Shaevitz (faculty) of Princeton's Department of Physics and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics created this graphic, in collaboration with Filiz Bunyak and Kannappan Palaniappan at the University of Missouri at Columbia: "Much like schools of fish or groups of giggling schoolgirls, bands of Myxococcus xanthus, a social bacterium, travel together. In order to hunt prey efficiently and protect one another, these cells must coordinate the way in which they move - or 'glide' - together. In this image the gliding of hundreds of thousands of these cells was tracked over four hours. Their paths transition from blue to red according to the amount of time elapsed."

A ghostly face looms in this image from Ohad Fried, a graduate student in Princeton's Department of Computer Science. "This work shows a reconstruction of a face from an anonymized video," Fried says. "Given a video stream containing a blurred, unrecognized face, the data from the individual video frames is combined to create a good approximation of the original face. The connection between frames and mutual information is what makes the reconstruction possible. The result is an intriguing 'ghost image' of the subject."

This colorful graphic was created by postdoctoral associates Shawn Little and Kristina Sinsimer as well as faculty members Elizabeth Gavis and Eric Wieschaus from Princeton's Department of Molecular Biology. "The fruit fly ovary consists of about 100 egg chambers. Each chamber contains 15 'nurse cells.' These surround the oocyte, or egg cell, which ultimately will develop into a baby fruit fly. The nurse cells synthesize RNA molecules that are ultimately deposited into the oocyte. Here we see four nurse cells. Each red or green dot is an individual RNA molecule, which is produced from DNA (shown in blue)."

This image was submitted to the Art of Science Competition by Princeton graduate students Emily Grace and Christine Pappas, postdoc Laura Newburgh and the University of Pennsylvania's Benjamin Schmitt: "The universe exploded into being 14 billion years ago and remnant light from this explosion is still visible today. Our group measures this light at a site 17,000 feet high in the Atacama Desert in Chile. We use special 'detectors' developed in a collaboration between Princeton and other institutions. These detectors use antennas to capture the non-visible wavelengths of light focused by our 6-meter telescope. This photograph looks down into feedhorns, small corrugated structures that allow particles of light to funnel toward the antennas."

Jeremy Blair (Chemical and Biological Engineering, '13) takes a close look at a marble surface: "Acid-etched marble reveals a myriad of surface topologies depending on the crystal orientation of the calcite grain. One of the more dramatic textures that I came across reminded me of the carved stone spires of Bryce Canyon and warranted a number of high-magnitude captures on the scanning electron microscope."

Mark Luchtenburg (postdoc) and Clancy Rowley (faculty) of Princeton's Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering created this oil-spill visualization: "When analyzing an oil spill in an ocean, one wants to predict the extent of the contaminated region even when the initial distribution is not known precisely. This sequence of images shows the evolution (top to bottom) of a theoretical oil spill. The black blob in the top figure represents the oil as it likely spread during the initial spill. The oil is then transported and mixed by two large opposite rotating structures called gyres. This 'stirring' leads to fine and intricate structures as the oil and water mix (bottom figure)."

Graduate students Daniel Quinn, Brian Rosenberg and Amanda DeGiorgi join forces with faculty member Alexander Smits of Princeton's Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering to find beauty in a drop of dye: "The intermingling of two fluids can be remarkably intricate. Here we highlight the complexity of such flows by imaging a drop of fluorescent dye plunging into quiescent water. At the droplet's forefront is a stunning horseshoe-like structure that commonly appears when one fluid slides past another. While the droplet's core is bulbous and coherent, turbulence stretches its wake into gossamer strands. Eventually the tendrils are so thin that dye and water coalesce via molecular diffusion."

Jason Krizan, a graduate student in chemistry, captured this view of topological insulators over a bed of carbon. "These materials display novel physics at low temperature where electrons have entangled spin states. These physics could eventually be used in the construction of a quantum computer. The reflections on the crystal facets show the nearly perfect cleavage planes of the crystal – these were not cut and polished. The carbon is used in the synthesis of these materials as a reducing agent to prevent the contamination of the crystal with oxygen."

Graduate student Jason Wexler and faculty member Howard Stone (Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering) turn droplets into op art: "When drops of liquid are trapped in a thin gap between two solids, a strong negative pressure develops inside the drops. If the solids are flexible, this pressure deforms the solids to close the gap. In our experiment the solids are transparent, which allows us to image the drops from above. Alternating dark and light lines represent lines of constant gap height, much like the lines on a topological map. These lines are caused by light interference, which is the phenomenon responsible for the beautiful rainbow pattern in an oil slick. The blue areas denote the extent of the drops."

This fiery image comes from C.K. Law (faculty), Swetaprovo Chaudhuri (research scholar) and Fujia Wu (graduate student) of Princeton's Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering: "These three images are snapshots of a spark-ignited expanding flame in different environments of the same hydrogen-air mixture. The top flame shows the ideal, reference case of a stable, smooth flame surface in a quiescent environment at atmospheric pressure. The middle flame is taken under elevated pressure simulating that within an internal combustion engine. The bottom flame is taken in a highly turbulent environment simulating another aspect of the engine interior. All images were taken at 8000 frames per second, using schlieren photography. The radius of the top flame is 11.4 millimeters."

Flames dance in an image created by visiting student Bo Jiang and postdoc Bret Windom of Princeton's Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering: "This series of 11 flames demonstrates the transition that occurs in a turbulent flame as a result of low-temperature oxidation of the reactants prior to introduction into the high-temperature flame. Scanning left to right, the degree of pre-flame reactant oxidation is increased by increasing the reactant temperature and/or heated residence time. This transition, evident by the increasing redness of the flames, is due to changes in the flame chemistry resulting in new emission profiles and has a dramatic effect on the flame properties."

Here's an offbeat look at worms from Meredith Wright (Murphy Lab, Department of Molecular Biology '13): "Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) worms are stored on agar plates covered with a lawn of E. coli bacteria as their food source. Sometimes when the C. elegans have consumed all of the bacteria, they begin to clump together as seen in this image. I found the pattern on this plate particularly lovely, and was able to capture it with my cell phone by holding the lens of my phone's camera up to the microscope eyepiece. 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. 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.'"

This colorful image comes from graduate student Anna Hiszpanski and faculty member Yueh-Lin Loo from Princeton's Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering: "When attempting to synthesize a desired chemical, some starting materials may not react as anticipated or may produce undesired byproducts. Hence, chemists must typically perform separations to isolate the desired product from other chemicals in the reaction mixture. If the desired products and the undesirable byproducts have similar solubilities, it may be necessary to perform a chromatographic separation. ... If the components in the mixture absorb at different wavelengths in the visible light spectrum, chromatographic separation can produce colorful gradients, as seen in the image. Here we were synthesizing a semiconducting molecule called hexabenzocoronene for use in organic electronic applications."

Faculty member Celeste Nelson and visiting faculty Joe Tien (Chemical and Biological Engineering) made this image of a mouse embryo: "Confocal imaging gives us the opportunity to view the vascular system by illuminating the whole body with fluorescent light and providing a translucent image of the subject. This mosaic of different confocal images gives us an entire picture of a mouse embryo. Here the vascular system – rather than appearing in a familiar blood-red – is represent by the color green. The blue color represents the DNA that will direct the embryo’s growth."

Here's an eerie picture from Chhaya Werner (Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, '14): "That sweet little face peering out of a coral labyrinth is that of a goby fish. A goby fish is dependent on coral for its home, and in turn will often clean algae that would otherwise smother the coral. I took this photo in the course of field research for the Coral Reefs lab course in Panama (EEB 346) for a project on the ecology of coral reefs, focusing on interactions between corals, algae and sea urchins."

Graduate student Anthony Ambrosini (Molecular Biology) captured this view of viral protein: "Pseudorabies is a viral disease that is endemic to swine in most parts of the world and also infects many other domestic and wild animals (in cattle it is known as 'mad itch'). For the virus to infect a cell, a series of proteins must interact to fuse the virus' envelope to the membrane of the cell so that the viral payload can be delivered to the cell's interior. In this image, one of these proteins (glycoprotein B, which appears in red) coats the surface of infected pig kidney cells."