Science is so much more engaging when you can actually see it. Yesterday, the journal Science and the National Science Foundation released the winners of the International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge. The competition awards videos, games, posters, and images for creatively portraying scientific information visually. From a photograph that shows the intricate process of building coral to a pastel that maps the brain’s cerebral cortex, see the winning images here.

“Cortex in Metallic Pastels”

This lovely first-place illustration visually compares the brain to a forest. The spindly neurons were depicted thanks to a technique that involves blowing paint across the canvas. The jets of air help mimic the spontaneity of branching patterns.

“Invisible Coral Flows”

This first-place winner in the photography category captures the fluid vortex created by cauliflower coral’s cilia.

“Stellate leaf hairs on Deutzia scabra”

The rainbow stars in this photo received honorable mention. Polarized light microscopy—a 19th century technique—brought to light the tiny stars, which adorn the tips of hair on the leaves from the shrub, Deutzia scabra.

Polymer Micro-structure Self-assembly

While this looks like it could be a number of things—an aerial view of a city, or a glowing blue cell—it’s actually a microstructure made from a self-assembling polymer. The incredibly detailed image depicts a fragment that’s just 2 mm. The microstructure acts as part of a lab-on-a-chip being developed for biomedical purposes.

Human Hand Controlling Bacterial Biofilms

People’s choice in illustration went to this speckled hand. The streams of marks look like a nod to pointillism, but they actually represent the Pseudomonas bacteria. Those that are colored green are resistant to microbial treatments. This was produced using overlaid cultured biofilms covering a sculpted hand.

“Security Blanket”

This cheeky blanket was awarded honorable mention in the illustration category. The word cloud includes the 1,000 most commonly used passwords, reported in the aftermath of an online security breach in which 32 million passwords were stolen. The most common (123456) is shown largest, and serves as a background for the quilt.