Flowers in an Unexpected Place

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The winners of the 2009 International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge—an annual contest sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the journal Science—were announced last week. The image above, "Flower Power" from Russell Taylor, Briana K. Whitaker and Briana L. Carstens of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, received an honorable mention in the photography category.

Accidents can sometimes be beautiful. Briana Whitaker and Briana Carstens of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, snapped this photograph as a quality-control step in their experiments to study the forces that cells, such as those that stitch together skin wounds, exert. They visualize these forces by watching how forests of 10-micrometer-tall polymer pillars bend when they place the cells on top of them. Ideally, the pillars should stand straight up, but on this occasion most of the pillars had fallen over. Amazingly, though, they'd all collapsed into a flowerpetal-like pattern.

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