NSF Visualization Challenge 2008

Another year, another NSF/AAAS Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge. With the opening of my institution mere days away (tonight’s the gala), I’ll limit my comments to short and snarky.

As usual, the quick and dirty way of catching up on the challenge winners is to enjoy the Science magazine interactive thingie: you can browse the images, listen to the podcast, etc. The one thing you can’t do unless you subscribe to the magazine is actually read the article. Bummer. The NSF provides a fairly thorough description of the winners with plenty of links, so you can still get a good sense of who did what.

Most of the winners are truly impressive, and thus unworthy of comment (except I’ll note that I quite enjoyed the “Smarter than the Worm” video). Instead, I’ll of course mention the one I didn’t much care for… The “squidsuckers” image above. We’re looking at tiny suction cups (each less than half a millimeter in diameter, with chitin “fangs”) on the arm of a Loligo pealei squid.

First off, I find the garish colors a bit of a turn-off, and the mediocre alignment of the color to the underlying image doesn’t help. Jessica Schiffman, the doctoral student at Drexel University who created the picture, claims that the film Little Shop of Horrors inspired the color scheme (presumably the Frank Oz version, not the original black-and-white movie). That’s cute and all, but I wonder if a novice viewer would interpret these tiny little maws as individual Audrey Juniors, waiting to consume the squid’s prey rather than simply latch onto it.

Visualizing Refuse

Quick post. A friend pointed me to a page of work by the photographer Chris Jordan. The image above “depicts two million plastic beverage bottles, the number used in the U.S. every five minutes.” The actual image measures five by ten feet, and the web page zooms in on views of the individual bottles.

Um, yikes! I want to see these in person… I think.

Visualization Challenge

The National Science Foundation and Science magazine sponsor an annual “Visualization Challenge,” and you can see this year’s first place winner in the photography category above. What I find interesting about the choice is that this image is not a photograph at all: it’s actually a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional reconstruction, pieced together from some 60,000 200-micron-thin scans of the mummified remains. For purposes of the competition, the photography category includes “film or digital photographs and photomicrographs, as well as images obtained from electron microscopes, STMs, AFMs, telescopes and similar instruments,“ which is even more simply defined as “images created by sensors.” A rather expansive definition…

Other winning images and multimedia pieces can be seen in a slide show from Science magazine or on a web page at the NSF site. Interestingly, no astronomy visuals appear in the winning entries.

I worked on a piece that garnered attention in the very first Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge, and with our most recent show in the can, perhaps we will enter again next year. Until then, the 2006 winners offer some pretty delightful imagery—I particularly like the visualization of air traffic over the United States.