Even in these uncertain times, science and springtime marshmallows have found ample opportunity to collide. The Open Notebook (TON), an online resource for science journalists, has announced the winners of its second annual #PeepYourScience competition, crowning an elaborate four-part diorama called “A Peep Into the Life of a Data Scientist” with its coveted Golden Peep.
The competition got its start last year as the brainchild of The Open Notebook and collaborators Joanna Church, Helen Fields and Kate Ramsayer. According to TON editor-in-chief Siri Carpenter, the rules are simple: Create a free-standing diorama depicting science-related tableau in the marshmallowy medium of Peeps. In the website’s words, it’s “science communication meets sugary confection.”
This year’s winning two-tiered display, which emerged victorious among more than 70 entries, features a marshmallowy dive into the world of data science. Described by judges as a “clear and creative” endeavor, it was notable for its accurate portrayal of the toils, troubles and joys of the field. Casting bunny peeps as data scientists and chick peeps as data, the diorama cycles through the four stages of data science: data cleaning (the apparent “bulk” of these researchers’ work), data wrangling, data modeling and data delivery. In the cheeky finale, Peep artists Kerri Barton, Ally Hinton, Jaclyn Janis, Lee Lucas, Kim Murray, Shravanthi Seshasayee and Deanna Williams crafted a bunny “stork” delivering a journal article in a dramatic culmination of the data science pipeline.
Data science is a topic that might seem, at first pass, “hard to represent visually in a way that’s interesting,” Carpenter says. “But it was so clever and funny and meticulously done … I think all of us on the TON team, and the judges, were completely in awe.”
Other notable entries included a solo act from artist Amy A. Free, entitled “Pup Sniffs Poop; Prof Finds Peeps,” which took both second place in the adults category, as well as the Peeple’s Choice Award. (The latter prize opened the competition to input from the general public.) In sharp contrast to the data science diorama, Free’s display takes the viewer into the rough-and-tumble world of field work, featuring a biologist and her feces-sniffing dog on the prowl for carnivore scat. As Carpenter notes, Free clearly planned ahead, stockpiling Christmas-themed Peeps in the shape of pine trees to enhance her prize-winning entry.
Many of the other dioramas submitted contained some pop cultural nods, such as “Miss Ameripeep 2020 and her Amazing Technicolor Elephant Toothpaste,” which won “Best Use of Peeps.” Built by a team at Chemical & Engineering News that also took home a prize in last year’s inaugural competition, the display featured the chemistry demonstration that won Camille Schrier the title of Miss America 2020 in December.
The competition, which ran from early February through the end of March, also saw a number of COVID-19 related entries, including two that took home prizes, Carpenter says. #PeepYourScience 2020 was actually originally slated to conclude in mid-March—right around the time when pandemic-related closures and cancellations were beginning to escalate in the United States, Carpenter says. With a mind to the gravity of the circumstances, the judges decided to push back the deadline, perhaps offering “a welcome diversion for people who needed or wanted that.”
Now that the winners have been announced and celebrated, “I hope that this contest has provided some moments of respite from the onslaught of bad news that we’ve all been dealing with,” Carpenter says. “It’s valuable to find some lightness in our days, so that we can keep moving forward.”