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Scientists Turn Experiments Into Art

May 15, 2013 8:00 PMNov 20, 2019 8:43 PM


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Photo Credits: Princeton Art of Science Competition

Scientists may not consider themselves artists, but in the photos that follow, there is no doubt that the two overlap. The images come from an art exhibit that opened at Princeton University this week. It features the best entries from its Art of Science Competition, which are works of art created in the course of scientific research. 

In addition to an array of colors and media, the subjects of these photos range from genetic biology to chemical behavior to exoplanet imaging. The titles and descriptions were provided by the researchers themselves so they can tell the scientific story behind the image. Each one gives us a look at the beauty of studying our world. 

Even the prize money is scientific at the AoS Competition. Awards were calculated by the golden ratio in order to increase their aesthetic appeal: $250 for first place, $154.51 for second and $95.49 for third.

A total of 170 images were submitted from 24 different departments across campus. The judges panel narrowed it down to 43. We've pared it down to the ones we think you'll like best.

Photo Credits: Jess Brooks '13, Esteban Engel (postdoc), and Lynn Enquist (faculty), Department of Molecular Biology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute

Vero cells are a particular kind of kidney monkey cells. Here they have been infected by a herpes virus that carries a "brainbow cassette," which makes cells express proteins that are tagged with a variety of fluorescent colors.

This rainbow of colors helps us identify and analyze individual neurons (the core components of the body's nervous system), thus allowing us trace neural circuits.

– Jess Brooks, Esteban Engel and Lynn Enquist 

Photo Credits: C.K. Law (faculty), Swetaprovo Chaudhuri (research scholar), Fujia Wu (graduate student), Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

These three images are snapshots of a spark-ignited expanding flame in different environments of the same hydrogen-air mixture.

The top flame shows the ideal, reference case of a stable, smooth flame surface in a quiescent environment at atmospheric pressure.

The middle flame is taken under elevated pressure simulating that within an internal combustion engine.

The bottom flame is taken in a highly turbulent environment simulating another aspect of the engine interior.

All images were taken at 8000 frames per second, using schlieren photography. The radius of the top flame is 11.4 millimeters.

– C.K. Law, Swetaprovo Chaudhuri and Fujia Wu 

Photo Credits: Elizabeth Young (graduate student), Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

This is a microscope image of glass coated first with aluminum and then with photoresist, a light-sensitive material used to form a patterned coating on a surface. The darker patches are places where the photoresist has been exposed by a laser and will eventually lead to holes in the aluminum.

This picture represents part of a coronagraph mask manufacturing process. This optical mask helps a telescope directly image exoplanets (planets outside our solar system).

– Elizabeth Young

Photo Credits: Siran Li (graduate student) and Coleen Murphy (faculty), Department of Electrical Engineering and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics

Though nearly invisible to the naked eye, the roundworm species C. elegans has huge biological importance. Since it shares more than 80 percent of its proteins with humans, studying this tiny creature can reveal many secrets about our own biology.

This device, only 2 centimeters long, contains sixteen chambers. Each of the sixteen chambers houses an adult worm, who will remain there during its lifetime.

As fluid flows from left to right, the mother remains in her chamber while her tiny progeny are flushed through the curved channels into the counting area on the right. The beauty of this design is due to the symmetric pattern, which allows each worm to experience the same conditions and flow rate as the other worms.

– Siran Li and Coleen Murphy 

Photo Credits: Celeste Nelson (faculty) and Joe Tien (visiting faculty), Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering

"We are linked by blood," writes Joyce Carol Oates, "and blood is memory without language."

The network of blood vessels known as the vascular system connects all tissues and organs. Confocal imaging gives us the opportunity to view the vascular system by illuminating the whole body with fluorescent light and providing a translucent image of the subject. 

This mosaic of different confocal images gives us an entire picture of a mouse embryo. Here the vascular system, rather than appearing in a familiar blood-red, is represented by the color green. The blue color represents the DNA that will direct the embryo's growth.

– Celeste Nelson and Joe Tien

Photo Credits: Jessica Lynn Saylors '13, Anna Hiszpanski (graduate student), Yueh-Lin Loo (faculty), Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering

Amorphous films of contorted hexabenzocoronene form two visually different types of crystals when annealed at 240 degrees Celsius. This sample was part of an experiment analyzing how crystals grow within a film.

To track growth rates, crystallization was halted every minute, resulting in the concentric ring pattern in the large crystal. As the large crystal grew, it trapped a few of the smaller ones in its path, resulting in the varying diameters of small crystals within the large one.

– Jessica Lynn Saylors, Anna Hiszpanski and Yueh-Lin Loo

Photo Credits: Sema Berkiten (graduate student), Department of Computer Science

In computer vision, there are several methods to create a 3-D model of an object. One of them, called “photometric stereo,” uses multiple images of the object under different light directions. In this 3-D reconstruction technique, we need to calculate surface normals of the object as an intermediate step, and this picture is the result of that step.

The image depicts the surface normals of a mirrored sphere. The “surface normal” is the direction perpendicular to a surface, and in this visualization different normal directions are represented with colors. For example, red means the object surface is facing to the right, green means the object surface is facing upwards, and blue means the object surface is facing towards the viewer, and other colors are combinations of these directions.

The surface normals depicted in this image are not all geometrically correct because the algorithm assumes that the surface is not shiny like a mirror, so what we see in this image are actually some artifacts caused by highlights and shadows.

– Sema Berkiten

Photo Credits: Shawn C. Little (postdoc), Kristina S. Sinsimer (postdoc), Elizabeth R. Gavis (faculty), and Eric F. Wieschaus (faculty), Department of Molecular Biology

The fruit fly ovary consists of about 100 egg chambers. Each chamber contains 15 "nurse cells." These surround the oocyte, or egg cell, which ultimately will develop into a baby fruit fly. The nurse cells synthesize RNA molecules that are ultimately deposited into the oocyte.

Here we see four nurse cells. Each red or green dot is an individual RNA molecule, which is produced from DNA (shown in blue). The RNA molecules intermingle on a threadlike network that allows them to move from one nurse cell to another and then into the developing egg (which we don't see in this image).

– Shawn C. Little, Kristina S. Sinsimer, Elizabeth R. Gavis, and Eric F. Wieschaus 

Photo Credits: Martin Jucker, Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences

The winds around our globe are preferentially directed from West to East, or East to West, and much less so in the North-South directions. As a result, atmospheric phenomena can travel around the globe, exchanging information even from remote places of the Earth easily. We see in the picture surfaces of constant wind around Earth, averaged over time. Blue is East-to-West, red West-to-East directed wind.

– Martin Jucker

Photo Credits: Jason Wexler (graduate student) and Howard A. Stone (faculty), Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

When drops of liquid are trapped in a thin gap between two solids, a strong negative pressure develops inside the drops. If the solids are flexible, this pressure deforms the solids to close the gap.

In our experiment the solids are transparent, which allows us to image the drops from above. Alternating dark and light lines represent lines of constant gap height, much like the lines on a topological map. These lines are caused by light interference, which is the phenomenon responsible for the beautiful rainbow pattern in an oil slick. The blue areas denote the extent of the drops. Since the drops pull the gap closed, the areas of minimum gap height (i.e. maximum deformation) are inside the drops, at the center of the concentric rings.

– Jason Wexler and Howard A. Stone

Photo Credits: Amy Wu (graduate student), Department of Electrical Engineering

Doxorubicin is a chemotherapy drug used to treat a wide range of cancers by preventing cancer cells from replicating. Red in color, it can cause unfortunate side effects to the patient, thus its nickname the "red devil."

This image, captured with an epifluorescence microscope, shows neural pathways known as "fiber tracts" that are trapped on hexagonal microstructures made of silicon. The fiber tracts light up in a violent red as soon as they absorb the doxorubicin molecules.

– Amy Wu

Photo Credits: Mingzhai Sun (postdoc) and Joshua Shaevitz (faculty), Department of Physics and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics

Much like schools of fish or groups of giggling school girls, bands of Myxococcus xanthus, a social bacterium, travel together. In order to hunt prey efficiently and protect one another these cells must coordinate the way in which they move—or "glide"—together.

In this image the gliding of hundreds of thousands of these cells was tracked over four hours. Their paths transition from blue to red according to the amount of time elapsed, with blue as the start time and red as the end time.

– Mingzhai Sun and Joshua Shaevitz

Photo Credits: Mitchell A. Nahmias (graduate student) and Paul R. Prucnal (faculty), Department of Electrical Engineering

Fiber optic networks have transformed global communications by moving digital bits of information around the planet at the speed of light. By combining lasers with artificial neural networks, it may one day be possible to create high-speed processors that react to incoming data far faster than current computers could ever handle.

Our brains are composed of billions of individual cells called neurons, which communicate along millions of billions of channels with electrochemical signals. This computer model visualizes a laser that behaves like a neuron by plotting a so-called "phase space."

Notice that the lines swirl inwards like a whirlpool to converge at stable equilibrium points, indicating that the laser will stabilize over time. Studying these trajectories helps us understand how our devices emit and receive pulses of light that mimic the way in which neurons communicate.

– Mitchell A. Nahmias and Paul R. Pruncal

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