Watch: Capturing the Beauty of Science

15 November 2017

Northwestern University’s annual Scientific Images contest, "Capturing the Beauty of Science," showcases the aesthetic side of research.

The contest is open to all researchers at the university, and this year’s contest yielded some breathtaking examples of beauty in engineering.

In the video you’ll see:

  • A 3D-printed copper salt structure floating in a jar of water. The water dissolves the salt, transforming the structure into a porous and sponge-like “polymer skeleton.” This incredibly light material can be used during surgery to implant gel that can regenerate parts of tissues and organs.
  • “The Salty Night” -- in the “waves” at the bottom its the edge of a 3D-printed hydrogel and above, salt crystals used the help solidify the gel form the “stars.” Hydrogels like this can be 3D-printed into any shape.
  • A bio-compatible material that mimics tissue in the body. The purple “ropes” in the image are created by pushing fibrous material through a microscopic mold, using a lubricant which can be seen as yellow and turquoise bubbles. Many ropes can be used to weave a custom-made tissue bandage that can help heal damaged organs.
  • An example of failure -- scientists hoped to make a sturdy membrane by suspending nanoparticles in water, then painting them onto a microscope slide. But the coating cracked as it dried. Viewed through the microscope, the defects show an iridescent beauty.

For the winning researchers, the contest includes:

  • Public engagement: Winning images tour galleries, museums and libraries in the Chicago area.
  • Training: Winning researchers receive public communications training from Science in Society staff, along with opportunities to talk about their work at Chicago-area venues.

“This program is especially important for children, who may not ever have envisioned themselves as future scientists,” said Karna Gowda, an applied mathematician and winner of the 2016 contest. “Meeting a scientist who is down to earth and shares their background in some way can make a big difference in what they see as possible for themselves.”

The contest began in 2010. Submitted images are judged by an interdisciplinary panel of local artists, scientists and community leaders. More information, including instructions on how to submit an image for next year’s contest, can be found here.

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