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<em>Science</em>: 2012 International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge Winners Announced

A three-dimensional computer simulation of a beating heart is among the first place winners of the 2012 International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge, sponsored by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the journal Science.

“Alya Red: A Computational Heart” is the title of the visual film project, which also won a People’s Choice award in the video category. The film combines illustration, three-dimensional renderings, and live-action video to describe the basic electromechanical science of the heart in language that is easy for people to comprehend. “Understanding our organs—and the heart in particular—in deep detail is one of the challenges of modern medicine,” said Fernando Cucchietti of the Barcelona Supercomputing Center. “The video presents the approach of our particular project…which aims at developing large scale numerical simulators of the heart.”

The First Place and People’s Choice video was “Alya Red: A Computational Heart,” from the Barcelona Supercomputing Center.

Another powerful visual, “Connectivity of a Cognitive Computer Based on the Macaque Brain,” shows colored neural wires that connect to major regions of a monkey’s brain and inspires researchers of IBM Research-Almaden to develop a new generation of “neuro-synaptic” computer chips that connect multiple chips into a brain-like network. The detailed diagram won first place in the challenge’s illustration category and will be featured on the cover of the 1 February issue of the journal Science.

Shapes that are naturally formed in the sea urchin tooth are the subject of a striking abstract photograph, “Biomineral Single Crystals,” which won first place and a People’s Choice award in the photography category. “The shapes in this image are naturally formed in the sea urchin tooth,” explained Pupa Gilbert of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Color is added in Photoshop® to heighten the visual impact of the structure, and to emphasize how interconnected and intertwined the crystal forms are.” In the sea urchin tooth, she said, “calcite crystals fill space, harden the tooth, and toughen it enough for it to grind rock.”

“These winners continue to amaze me every year with their remarkable talent and drive to engage the public,” said Monica M. Bradford, executive editor of Science. “The visuals are not only novel and captivating, but they also draw you into the complex field of science in a simple and understandable way.”


“Biomineral Single Crystals” – First Place and People’s Choice, Photography – These are biomineral crystals found in a sea urchin tooth. Geologic or synthetic mineral crystals usually have flat faces and sharp edges, whereas biomineral crystals can have strikingly uncommon forms that have evolved to enhance function. | CREDIT: Pupa U.P.A. Gilbert and Christopher E. Killian

The international competition, currently in its tenth year, honors recipients who use visual media to promote understanding of scientific research. The criteria for judging this year’s 215 entries from 18 countries included visual impact, effective communication, freshness, and originality.


The competition received 3155 public votes for the entries and the public selected their favorite image for the People’s Choice awards and shared their favorite entries via the social media sites Facebook and Twitter.

The annual challenge showcases spectacular photographs, illustrations, graphics, videos, and interactive games that engage viewers by conveying the complex substance of science through artwork. Some other highlights include:

Rotate an Owl’s Neck: The first place winning poster showcases an owl’s unique cervical mobility by depicting how owls adapt to handle 270-degree neck rotations without cutting off blood supply to their heads. “This poster represents the first comprehensive investigation clarifying the cervical arterial anatomy of the owl,” said Fabian de Kok-Mercado of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “Although fragmentary information can be found in older literature, knowledge of the anatomy of the carotid and vertebral arteries of the owl prior to this study was quasi-inexistent.”

View Pharma Transport Routes: The People’s Choice award for posters and graphics, “The Pharma Transport Town,” shows a sketch of what happens to drugs after they are consumed and the abstract pathways that are used to transport pharmaceuticals within the context of the viewer’s own environment, using the visual metaphor of a town.

Stretch Earth’s Evolution in Deep Time: A poster illustrates processes and events, such as plate tectonics and mass extinctions, that dominated the first 85% of Earth’s history and highlights the plants and animals, including dinosaurs, that existed in the remaining 15% of the planet’s history. “Our poster provides teachers and students with an expanded perspective about the evolution of our planet and emphasizes how geology and biology have influenced one another,” said Mark Nielsen of The Educational Resources Group, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and Astronaut 3 Media Group.


“Self Defense” – Honorable Mention, Photography – This image is a 3-D CT scan of a clam and a whelk, both alive. The clam (left) is nestled comfortably in the bottom half of its shell. [CREDIT: Kai-hung Fung]

Observe Fluorescence of Coral Reefs: A video shows a live image of the natural fluorescence of coral symbiomes with the use of laser scanning confocal microscopy. “This approach is profoundly advancing our basic understanding of corals and their responses to environmental change,” said Christine Farrar of the Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. “Coral reefs are one of the most vital ecosystems on Earth. They provide coastline protection, a habitat for biodiversity, and a setting for coastal fisheries and tourism. The interactions between coral, unicellular algae that live within their tissues, and small organisms on their surface, collectively known as the symbiome, result in the functional capacity that allows corals to create reefs. Coral symbiomes are however, vulnerable to pollution and climate change.”


Discover Next-Gen Devices: An interactive game called “UNTANGLED” allows users to compete and create compact next-generation electronic chip designs and circuit layouts on grids that are flexible and almost human-like in nature. “Our goal is to discover human strategies for circuit layout and opportunities for new chip designs that can be employed in future cell phones, medical devices, and other electronics,” said Gayatri Mehta of the University of North Texas. “These devices will be smaller, consume less power, and have longer battery life. This will affect all of us in areas from health, safety and security, to personal convenience and comfort. Our game can also be used as a tool to educate people and encourage them to participate in solving important engineering problems.”

Other winning entries include the use of computed tomography scanning to capture a photograph of a clam and the spiral shell of a whelk; high-resolution X-ray radiography of plant seeds in elegant detail combined with images taken by microscopy; an online game for students to create their own moon and experience the physics of colliding asteroids and dense materials; a digital journey that portrays the process of human fertilization; and a two-dimensional flash simulation game about Albert Einstein’s theory of special relativity. The winning entries are featured in the 1 February issue of Science (available to the public without registration), and at the NSF’s Web site.

The 2012 winning entries are included in five categories:


First Place and People’s Choice:
Pupa U.P.A. Gilbert and Christopher E. Killian
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Biomineral Single Crystals

Honorable Mentions (2-way tie):
Kai-hung Fung
Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital (Hong Kong)
Self Defense

Viktor Sykora
First Faculty of Medicine, Charles University, Czech Republic
Jan Zemlicka, Frantisek Krejci, and Jan Jakubek
Institute of Experimental and Applied Physics, Czech Technical University
X-ray Micro-Radiography and Microscopy of Seeds



“Connectivity of a Cognitive Computer Based on the Macaque Brain” – First Place, Illustration – This detail of a “wiring diagram” shows long-distance neural connections between major regions of the macaque brain. This visualization provides guidance for connecting multiple computer chips into a brain-like network. | 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; IBM Research - Almaden

First Place:


Emmett McQuinn, Theodore M. Wong, Pallab Datta, Myron D. Flickner, Raghavendra Singh, Steven K. Esser, Rathinakumar Appuswamy, William P. Risk, and Dharmendra S. Modha
IBM Research-Almaden
Connectivity of a Cognitive Computer Based on the Macaque Brain

Honorable Mention and People’s Choice:

Maxime Chamberland, David Fortin, and Maxime Descoteaux
Sherbrooke Connectivity Imaging Lab
Cerebral Infiltration

Posters & Graphics

First Place:

Fabian de Kok-Mercado, Michael Habib, Tim Phelps, Lydia Gregg, and Philippe Gailloud
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Adaptations of the Owl’s Cervical & Cephalic Arteries in Relation to Extreme Neck Rotation

Honorable Mention:

Eriko Clements, Mark Nielsen, Satoshi Amagai, Bill Pietsch, Davey Thomas, and Andy Knoll
The Educational Resources Group, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Astronaut 3 Media Group
Earth Evolution: The Intersection of Geology and Biology

People’s Choice:

Will Stahl-Timmins, Clare Redshaw, Mathew White, Michael Depledge and Lora Fleming
European Centre for Environmental and Human Health
The Pharma Transport Town: Understanding the Routes to Sustainable Pharmaceutical Use

Games & Apps


“Velocity Raptor” – This flash game is set in a world where you move at nearly the speed of light, starting off easy and slowly adding in relativistic effects. This focus on accuracy makes this game a tool for hands-on learning about relativity. | Credit: Andy Hall

Honorable Mentions (2-way tie):


Andy Hall
Velocity Raptor

Debbie Denise Reese, Robert E. Kosko, Charles A. Wood, and Cassie Lightfritz
CyGaMEs Project Center for Educational Technologies, Wheeling Jesuit University
Barbara G. Tabachnick
University of California, Northridge
CyGaMEs Selene II: A Lunar Construction GaME

People’s Choice:

Gayatri Mehta
University of North Texas


First Place and People’s Choice:

Guillermo Marin, Fernando Cucchietti, Mariano Vázquez, and Carlos Tripiana
Barcelona Supercomputing Center
Alya Red: A Computational Heart

Honorable Mentions (3-way tie):

Thomas Brown
Nucleus Medical Media

Christine Farrar, Zac H. Forsman, Ruth D. Gates, Jo-Ann C. Leong, and Robert J. Toonen
Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology, University of Hawai’i at Manoa
Observing the Coral Symbiome Using Laser Scanning Confocal Microscopy

Michael Rubinstein, Neal Wadhwa, Frédo Durand, William T. Freeman, Hao Yu Wu, and John Guttag
MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab
Eugene Shih
Quanta Research Cambridge
Revealing Invisible Changes In The World


Read more about the winners of the 2012 Visualization Challenge (free to the public without registration).

Listen to a Science Podcast about the 2012 winners.

Learn more about the International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge.


Natasha D. Pinol

Senior Communications Officer

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