The Sciences

Engineers Show Off Their Creative Side

Researchers show off another side of their work in the 2017 Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council photo competition.

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Photo Credits: James Macleod/University of Cambridge

Swirls of powdered graphene suspended in alcohol took the top prize in the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council's 2017 science photography competition. The council awarded prizes in five categories: Eureka and Discovery, Equipment and Facilities, People and Skills, Innovation, and Weird and Wonderful, meant to highlight moments of scientific research that often go unnoticed.

The winning shots include images of delicate microscale processes, an amazing vista captured by a research drone and a moment of connection between man and machine.

The graphene ink seen here is used to print electronic circuits onto paper and plastic only an atom thick. By forcing the powder through tiny channels made of diamond, James McLeod of the University of Cambridge devised a smooth solution that can be deposited by an inkjet printer. He hopes that the technique will allow for mass-production of what is still a prohibitively expensive material.

Photo Credits: Khaled Elgeneidy/Loughborough University

A 3-D printed rubber claw grips a light bulb without shattering it. For all their strength and pre-programmed dexterity, robots still have difficulty with fragile objects. Most compensate with complex systems of sensors and controls, but this design relies entirely on soft materials and a flexible framework to adapt to breakable objects of varying shape and size.

Photo Credits: Marta Alvarez Paino/University of Nottingham

These tiny polymer microparticles could one day serve as scaffolding for tissues to rebuild themselves. The perforated spheres are biodegradable and together serve as a kind of structure for new cells to grow on.

Photo Credits: Rob Francis-Jones/University of Bath

A hollow glass tube backlit by a hydrogen lamp similar to the optical fibers that transmit information across the globe. The tube will be drawn, or pulled, into a wire about as thick as a human hair.

The helical structure currently visible within as a golden spiral is the result of an imperfection caused by stress, and circles around a hollow tube in the middle that will be used to store gases.

Photo Credits: Diego Alonso-Álvarez/Imperial College London

Looking something like Egyptian pyramids surrounded by an undulating sea of sand, this microscopic image shows the surface of a silicon solar cell. The picture was taken with an iPhone 4s through a microscope, and is part of researchers' attempts to optimize the retention of both heat and light on solar cells. They are experimenting with different geographies of "pyramids" and "dunes" to find the best combination.

Photo Credits: Wei Cao/University of Southampton

The circles in this image are actually tightly-wound spirals of wire that direct light into a silicon chip. Although they measure only a square millimeter at most, they are composed of up to a meter of extremely thin wire.

They are used to detect chemicals via their interaction with light, a time-intensive process that necessitates the extra length.

Photo Credits: Milos Nedeljkovic/University of Southampton

A close-up of the same type of silicon chip used for detecting chemicals taken with a scanning electron microscope.

The white line represents the wire wrappings — a meter of wire compressed into the area of a square millimeter. The wire carries infrared light, and when a drop of liquid is placed on the chip, the chemicals can be identified by the wavelengths of light absorbed.

Photo Credits: Patricia Shaw/Aberystwyth University

The iCub robot is exploring the theory of embodied cognition — that our capacity to learn and develop as children is tied to physical movement.

To this end, the robot is trained with tasks familiar to small children, such as stacking colored blocks, in the hopes that mimicking our movements will help it build a knowledge base much like we do. Versions of the robot have been distributed to labs across Europe.

Photo Credits: James Bassitt/University of Exeter

The Fastnet Rock Lighthouse in Ireland as imaged by a drone. The picture was part of a study looking at the structural integrity of the lighthouse in combination with wind and wave dynamics.

The building sits on Fastnet Rock just off the southern tip of Ireland, and regularly sees intense weather. This is the second lighthouse to be built on the island, and the building has been reinforced multiple times, including by filling in the lower levels.

The drone actually failed shortly after this shot was taken due to spray from the waves, and the team ended up being stranded on the rock for an additional three days under a blanket of heavy fog.

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