There is beauty in science. There is information in art. Merging those two worlds could bring new insights into how the natural world works.
The 11.5-foot-tall art installation "Branching Morphogenesis" represents how networks form between human lung cells and the tissue around them. It's made of more than 75,000 color-coded, interconnected cable zip ties.
Peter Lloyd Jones, Andrew Lucia, Annette Fierro, and Jenny E. Sabin, University of Pennsylvania's Sabin+Jones LabStudio
The designers built tunnels between the layers of "Branching Morphogenesis" so viewers could peer through them to see how the network of cells changed over time. Visitors are encouraged to walk around and in between the layers.
Jenny E. Sabin, University of Pennsylvania's Sabin+Jones LabStudio
"Back to the Future" is an artistic illustration of how biology can inspire engineering. Below are fan-shaped colonies of microscopic algae, and above are computer renderings of a solar panel prototype inspired by them.
Mario De Stefano, Antonia Auletta, and Carla Langella, The 2nd University of Naples
In "Save Our Earth, Let's Go Green," tiny plastic fibers, each about half the diameter of a human hair, wrap around a plastic ball. This color-enhanced electron microscope photograph catches self-assembling polymers in action, but could also represent cooperative efforts to save the Earth.
Sung Hoon Kang, Boaz Pokroy, and Joanna Aizenberg, Harvard University
Tiny microbes surround salt crystals in "Microbe vs. Mineral." The salt-loving microbes excrete molecules that halt crystal growth, which helps them avoid getting trapped in the stuff. The colors come from light passing through the crystals, which act like prisms.
Michael P. Zach, University of Wisconsin — Stevens Point
These floral arrangements are ten-micron-tall polymer pillars used by scientists to study the forces exerted by cells. Researchers added color to the scanning microscope photo, dubbed "Flower Power," to emphasize the flowery look of the structures.
Russell Taylor, Briana K. Whitaker, and Briana L. Carstens, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
This thale cress flower does what most plants avoid: it fertilizes itself. In "Self Fertilization," you can see the thin tubes that lead from the pollen heads to the ovaries. Polarized light used by the microscope turns the normally white flower yellow and the background blue.
Heiti Paves and Birger Ilau, Tallinn University of Technology
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At least that's the idea behind the 2009 International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge. Its goal was to encourage people to find creative ways to move science and scientific findings away from the printed page or the computer screen, where it typically resides, and toward something more visual.
For example, let's say you want to know how human lung cells interact with their surroundings. You could take a picture of what you see through the microscope. But what if you took 75,000 cable zip ties and used them to create an 11.5-foot-tall sculpture that represents those interactions in three dimensions? That's what the scientists who made one of the winning entries for this year's challenge did. You get to decide whether it is aesthetically pleasing, and scientifically evocative.
The competition was co-sponsored by Science magazine and the National Science Foundation. You can see all the winners, and find out more about the International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge, on NSF's Web site.