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Smartphones and Solar Winds Featured in New AAAS/<em>Science</em> Contest that Brings Data to Life

Three videos have been awarded the first-ever "Data Stories" visualization prize, sponsored by AAAS and Science. The winning submissions covered a variety of topics, from Mars' atmosphere to endangered species.

"Data Stories" producer Christy Steele, who helped to coordinate and develop the contest, said that the goal was for contestants to "tell us a story with data." Winners were chosen in three categories: Professional, Student and Corporate. The corporate category included submissions made on behalf of an organization. The contest also included a People's Choice Award, decided by users voting at the "Data Stories" website.

Corporate and People's Choice Winner: "Martian Atmosphere Loss Explained by NASA

Both the Corporate and People's Choice Awards went to NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio/Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Science Team. Their video, "Martian Atmosphere Loss Explained by NASA," visualized data from a MAVEN spacecraft observing Mars. The team used animation to illustrate how solar winds may have helped to erode the upper atmosphere of early Mars.

Daniel Gallagher is a multimedia producer for NASA, and helped to produce the video. As a filmmaker, he believes that data visualization is a useful tool for showing, rather than telling, an audience why a scientific finding is significant. He explained that the technique "shows the complex workings of nature in a way that everyone can understand."

RJ Andrews won in the Professional category for "Are Gazelles Endangered?" a video that used illustrations and mapping to show how data about endangered species can be displayed effectively.

In the Student category, the award was given to Ulf Aslak Jensen for his video titled "How People Gather: An Interactive Visualization Approach." Through narration and an animated graph, Jensen explained a study that used smartphones to track human behavior.

All three winners will have their videos featured on the main "Data Stories" website.

Professional Winner: "Are Gazelles Endangered?"

Contestants were asked to produce a compelling video that illustrated a freely available data set. They were judged based on the creativity, complexity, and clarity of their submission.

Videos were also required to run no longer than 90 seconds. Steele said that this requirement was included in part to appeal to an online audience that might not want to watch a longer video. She also explained that short clips are well-suited for online promotion.

"Video is something that gets a lot of engagement on our website and on social media," Steele said.

In an effort to get the word out about the prize in its first year, the development team promoted the contest using social media, the newly-designed Science website, and at the 2016 AAAS Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.

Student Winner: "How People Gather: An Interactive Visualization Approach"

The prize was developed by Science's Chief Digital Media Officer Rob Covey, as well as members of the Science's Editorial, News and Digital Media departments, as well as the AAAS legal team. It was in part inspired by a previous collaboration between AAAS and the National Science Foundation, which together produced the "International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge" from 2003 until 2013. Over a year ago, members of AAAS and Science began discussions about developing a new contest that focused on visualizing scientific data.

The submissions were critiqued by a panel of three judges. Among the judges was Marcia McNutt, editor-in-chief of the Science family of journals.

McNutt praised the "remarkable creativity" of some of the videos, and said she hopes that the prize will inspire authors submitting to Science to use data visualization as a tool to communicate their research.

"In this era when the public and even one's own science colleagues fail to understand the significance of scientific research," McNutt said, "what is more compelling than letting the data tell its own story?"

[Credit for associated teaser image: Ulf Aslak Jensen]