Work of College of Engineering students and faculty featured in 2021 UW Cool Science Image Contest

// Electrical & Computer Engineering, Chemical & Biological Engineering, Materials Science & Engineering, Engineering Physics, Mechanical Engineering

Scanning electron microscope image of graphene ribbons

Mazes of tiny structures less than 15 billionths of a meter across and made of some of the smallest ribbons of graphene — layers of carbon just a single atom thick — ever fabricated represent an important step toward graphene-based telecommunications devices. Scanning electron microscope image. Credit: Joel Siegel and Margaret Fortman, graduate students, Physics; Jian Sun, graduate student, Materials Science; Jonathan Dwyer, PhD alumnus, Chemical Engineering.

Ten images and two videos created by University of Wisconsin–Madison students, faculty and staff have been named winners of the 2021 Cool Science Image Contest.

Among the winners are several members of the UW-Madison College of Engineering, including chemical engineering PhD alumnus Johnathan Dwyer and Jian Sun, a graduate student in materials science; Keith and Jane Morgan Nosbusch Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering Robert Nowak, who created a video along with his father, a UW-Madison alumnus; and postdoctoral fellow Josh Herzog, Robert Lorenz Professor of Mechanical Engineering David Rothamer and Riccardo Bonazza, a professor of engineering physics. View the winning entries here.

A panel of nine experienced artists, scientists and science communicators judged the scientific content and aesthetic and creative qualities of scores of images and videos entered in the 11th annual competition. The winning entries showcase animals and plants, the invisibly small structures all around us, and stars and nebulae millions of millions of miles away.

An exhibit featuring the winners is open to the public at the McPherson Eye Research Institute’s Mandelbaum and Albert Family Vision Gallery on the ninth floor of the Wisconsin Institutes for Medical Research, 111 Highland Ave., through December.

Winning submissions were created with point-and-shoot digital cameras, cutting-edge microscopes and telescopes of both the backyard and mountaintop variety.

Because sometimes, there’s no substitute for the visual.

“An image often can convey meaning more effectively than words,” says Ahna Skop, a longtime contest judge, artist and UW–Madison professor of genetics and active ambassador for science. “We know from marketing and education research that adding a picture with words to a slide increases retention of knowledge by 65 percent. The visual communication of science is critical for the transference of knowledge broadly.”

There can be an ineffable sort of something that makes a particularly effective science image — it’s the “Cool” in Cool Science Image Contest — but the good ones have much in common.

“You’ll know it when you see it. It’s like seeing “Starry Night” or the “Mona Lisa” for the first time, in person. They hit you deep and quickly,” Skop says. “They are beautiful to the eye, simple, and convey meaning. Some images just take your breath away. Looking deeper they exquisitely communicate the secrets of science beautifully.”

The Cool Science Image Contest recognizes the technical and creative skills required to capture images or videos that capably reveal something about science or nature while also leaving an impression with their beauty or ability to induce wonder. The contest is sponsored by Madison’s Promega Corp., with additional support from the UW–Madison Division of the Arts.

Winning entries are shared widely on UW–Madison websites, and all entries are showcased at campus science outreach events and in academic and lab facilities around campus throughout the year. Because there was no opportunity to show off the 2020 contest winners in-person, this year’s exhibit is a double-feature for both the 2020 and 2021 contests.

The contest judges were:

Steve Ackerman, professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences and vice chancellor for research and graduate education

Terry Devitt, emeritus director of research communications, University Communications

Kevin Eliceiri, director, Laboratory for Optical and Computational Instrumentation

Michael King, visual communications specialist, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences

Steve Paddock, former scientist, Molecular Biology

Kara Rogers, science writer and editor, Encyclopedia Britannica

Ahna Skop, professor of genetics

Kelly Tyrrell, director of research communications, University Communications

Craig Wild, videographer, University Communications

A version of this article was originally published by University Communications.

Author: Staff