Who Knew Fungi and Fruit Fly Ovaries Could Be So Beautiful?

Princeton University’s annual science art contest shines a light on the research world, adding a video element this year

"Fireball over the center of the galaxy": Researchers built a specially designed camera and mounted it to a telescope in Chile to capture this image of a meteor crossing our galaxy. Gaspar Bakos, Vincent Suc and Andres Jordan (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile)/Princeton University Art of Science
"Fruit fly factories," People's Choice Winner: A team from the chemical and biological engineering department produced this cross-section image of ten ovaries from various fruit flies surrounding stem cells and egg chambers. Yogesh Goyal, Bomyi Lim, Miriam Osterfield, Stas Shvartsman/Princeton University Art of Science
"Fungus among us," second place: A postdoctoral researcher in ecology and evolutionary biology, James S. Waters took this image under a microscope of fungal spores, which are "64,000 times smaller than the typical ant in whose colony they share a home." James S. Waters/Princeton University Art of Science
"Lion love": Ecology and evolutionary biology Ph.D. student Jennifer Schieltz studies how grazing cattle impact lion prey. "Healthy prey populations allow for healthy predator populations as well, leading to scenes like this one of a lioness and her thriving cub," writes Schieltz. Jennifer Schieltz/Princeton University Art of Science
"Living architecture": On Barro Colordo Island in Panama, grad student Matthew Lutz took this picture of worker army ants (Eciton hamatum) building a living bridge with their bodies. Matthew Lutz, Chris Reid/Princeton University Art of Science
"Illuminating the hidden world of fireflies": Grad student Albert Kao combined many images of fireflies flitting around a clearing to get a snapshot of the complex, unique flight patterns of these enthralling bugs. Albert Kao/Princeton University Art of Science
"Red Crystal": Jason Krizan, a graduate student, synthesized and photographed this pyrochlore crystal, which gets its red color from cobalt content and is highly magnetic. Jason Krizan/Princeton University Art of Science
"Now that I have your attention": This image shows a Tesla coil, commonly used in lab demonstrations. Applying voltage to the coil sparks plasma filaments to discharge energy. Omelan Stryzak, Bart McGuyer/Princeton University Art of Science
"Watermarks" earned first place in the contest. “The way water in this picture found its way back to the ocean reminded me of a peacock's tail spreading under the sun or a woman's hair blowing in the wind,” Sadri writes. Sara Sadri/Princeton University Art of Science
"Portrait of the artist in the air shower," third place: Electrical engineer graduate student Yasmin Afsar took this self-portrait in the 20-second air shower she takes before entering a "cleanroom" lab. Yasmin Afsar/Princeton University Art of Science

During a stroll on Belmar Beach in New Jersey, Sara Sadri, a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton University, came across a pattern in the sand carved by the ocean waves. As a hydrologist, Sadri saw a natural water flow, but on an artistic level, she says, the tendrils resembled “a crowd of people gathered together looking into the future with their hair together blown in the wind.” She snapped a photo of the sand.

Sadri’s image, entitled “Watermarks,” earned first prize in the still photography category of Princeton University’s annual Art of Science competition. This year, a jury of scientists and photographers selected 44 finalists from the 250 entries by faculty, undergraduates, graduate students, postdoctoral students and alumni across 25 academic departments. The selections are on view in an exhibition in the Friend Center on the Princeton campus, and organizers of the competition launched an online gallery this week.

The 2014 contest also adds a new component: video. Twelve video finalists were selected from 50 submissions. "So much of science and engineering involves video or animation these days that it was inevitable we would include it in Art of Science," said Dan Quinn, a graduate student in mechanical and aerospace engineering and one of the exhibition organizers, in a statement released today. “Since a picture is worth a thousand words, video is worth approximately 30,000 words per second, so adding a video component to Art of Science was a no-brainer."

Since its first installment in 2005, the competition has focused on the intersection of art and science; entries are judged based on both artistic and scientific merit. A microscopic shot of spores from an unidentified Rhizopus fungus explores the untapped diversity of the microbial world, while an aerial image of a termite mound taken from a kite in Kenya is part of an effort to understand what sort of ecological role mound patterns play. The images and videos document the innate beauty of the scientific process and encourage both scientists and artists to look at their work through a different lens.

"Art of Science" is on display at the Friend Center at Princeton University through April 2015, and a special “best of” exhibition from past contests is on view at the New York Hall of Science through September 14, 2014.