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Science's greatest sights

— How would you like to get an inside look at a child mummy? Watch the continent-wide "fireworks" of airplane flights at night? Visualize an elk's bugle? Get up close and personal with a Cuban banana cockroach? You can do all this and more online, thanks to the award winners in the Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge.

David Yager / University of Maryland
This portrait of a Cuban banana cockroach was
created from multiple photos of a roughly
inch-long (2-centimeter-long) specimen.

This year marks the fourth annual contest for graphical goodies, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The competition recognizes superb scientific applications in photography, illustration and informational graphics as well as multimedia.

To get the full flavor, you'll just have to click your way through this slideshow. You can see the imagery in all its glory, and download the winning videos and software to boot.

To whet your appetite, here are some short and sweet descriptions of the winners:

  • Photography: First place went to "An Egyptian Child Mummy," by W. Paul Brown, Robert Cheng, Rebecca Fahrig, Stanford University; Christof Reinhart, Volume Graphics. After sitting for 75 years in the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, Calif., a 2,000-year-old child mummy was analyzed by researchers using state-of-the-art 3-D imaging technology. The team concluded that the child was a 4- to 5-year-old girl who likely died unexpectedly from an infectious disease.

    Second place: "Cockroach Portrait," by David Yager, University of Maryland at College Park.

  • Illustration: First place went to "No. 64 - Still Life: Five Glass Surfaces on a Tabletop," by Richard Palais, University of California at Irvine; and Luc Benard. Mathematicians can conceive of innumerable surfaces that we cannot touch or see. They have long relied on their powers of imagination to picture abstract surfaces. Richard Palais and graphic artist Luc Benard used the magic of computer graphics to re-create these abstract surfaces in familiar yet intriguing settings.

    Second place: "A Da Vinci Blackboard Lesson in Multiconceptual Anatomy," by Caryn Babaian, Bucks County Community College, Newton, Pa.

    Honorable mention: "The Handwritten Letter 'e,' Visualized as a Canyon with Frost in the Lowlands," by Curtis T. DuBois.

  • Informational graphics: First place went to "Hawaii, the Highest Mountain on Earth," by Nils Sparwasser, Thorsten Andresen, Stephan Reiniger; Robert Meisner, German Aerospace Center. Mount Everest may be the highest mountain on Earth above sea level, but it's not the world's tallest mountain. That honor goes to the Hawaiian volcano Mauna Kea. When measured from its base on the Pacific Ocean floor, it rises about 3,280 feet (1,000 meters) taller then Mount Everest. Geographer Nils Sparwarrer and his colleagues at the German Aerospace Center provide a panoramic (and informative) view of the Hawaiian volcanoes.

    Second place: "The Mona Lisa: A Montage of Scientific Images," by Louis Borgeat, François Blais, John Taylor, Luc Cournoyer, Michel Picard, Angelo Beraldin, Guy Godin, Marc Rioux, Guillaume Poirier, National Research Council of Canada; Christian Lahanier, Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des musées de France.

    Honorable Mention: "Materials Informatics: Visualization of High Dimensional Combinatorial Data," by Matt Heying, Changwon Suh, Krishna Rajan, James Oliver, Iowa State University; Simone Seig, Wilhelm Maier, Universität des Saarlandes.

  • Non-interactive multimedia: Two entries tied for first place. "Flight Patterns," by media artist Aaron Koblin of the University of California at Los Angeles, graphically depicts air traffic criss-crossing the mainland United States and Hawaii as a new-age fireworks display. "Body Code" is by Drew Berry of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne, Australia; Jeremy Pickett-Heaps of the University of Melbourne; and François Tétaz. The animation, originally created for an art gallery, takes you on a wordless journey through the alien structures and molecular factories that keep us alive.

    Honorable mention: "A Short Tour of the Cryosphere," by Jennifer Brennan, ADNET Systems Inc./NASA Goddard Space Flight Center; Waleed Abdalati, Horace Mitchell, Ryan Boller, Lori Perkins, Greg Shirah, Carol Boquist, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center; Walter Meier, Ronald Weaver, Mary Jo Brodzik, Richard Armstrong, National Snow and Ice Data Center; Alex Kekesi, Cindy Starr, Tom Bridgman, Randall Jones, Marte Newcombe, Stuart Snodgrass, Eric Sokolowsky, Jarret Cohen, Brian Krupp, Global Science and Technology Inc.; Kevin Mahoney, Computer Science Corp.; Michael Starobin, Mike Velle, Honeywell Technology Solutions, Inc.

  • Interactive multimedia: First place went to "Cerebral Vasculature of Craniopagus Conjoined Twins," by Travis Vermilye, Stephen Humphries, Andrew M. Christensen, Medical Modeling LLC, Golden, Colo.; Kenneth E. Salyer, David G. Genecov, Carlos R. Barcelo, International Craniofacial Institute in Dallas; Crys Sory, Children's Medical Center in Dallas. To evaluate the chances of successfully separating one set of so-called craniopagus-conjoined twins, a group of surgeons at the International Craniofacial Institute used an interactive tool developed by medical illustrator Travis Vermilye. The tool helped the surgeons postpone the separation of the twins.

    Second place: "AVES: A Real-Time Audio and Visual Sound Visualization Tool," by Jack Bradbury, Guillaume Iacino, Erica Olsen; Robert Grotke, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, N.Y.

    Honorable mention: "Cardiac Bioelectricity and Arrhythmias," by Flavio H. Fenton, Elizabeth M. Cherry, Cornell University.

Does all this leave you hungry for more? Check out the roundups for the challenges in 2005, 2004 and 2003 - and visualize science!