Gallery: The Best Science and Engineering Visualizations

If pictures are worth a thousand words, then they must be worth at least a couple of hundred data points. Plenty of scientific concepts are better displayed with graphics than with texts, and every year the National Science Foundation and Science Magazine highlight the best science visualizations of the year.

The 2009 winners represent a diverse range of fields, from medicine to math to statistics. However, they all manage to distill highly technical scientific concepts into easily understandable pictures, films, and interactive creations.

Check out our gallery of first place finishers. I could write more about each one, but I promise you, the pictures do a better job than I ever could.

Save Our Earth, Let's Go Green
This shot won first prize in the photography category. Taken with an electron scanning microscope, the picture shows 250nm plastic fibers wrapping themselves around a plastic ball. The materials assumed this arrangement without any human construction, and demonstrates a new way of controlling polymer self-assembly.Sung Hoon Kang, Boaz Pokroy, and Joanna Aizenberg of Harvard University
Branching Morphogenesis
This first place winner in the illustrations competition displays the biological mechanism through which our lungs and blood vessels form. The image itself is constructed from pictures of cultured lung cells laid over pictures of over 75,000 linked zip ties. By combining the actual biological growth with a man-made network, the illustrators effectively simulated the way a single tube branches into the complex networks that pervade plants and animals.Peter Lloyd Jones, Andrew Lucia, Annette Fierro, and Jenny E. Sabin of University of Pennsylvania’s Sabin, and Jones Lab Studio
Kuen’s Surface: A Meditation on Euclid, Lobachevsky, and Quantum Fields
Another first place finisher in the illustrations category, this picture represents the 2000 year long struggle to prove that Kuen's Surface, a complex geometric shape that appears in quantum mechanics, can be derived from Euclid's postulates. The juxtaposition of the computer generated shape with the mahogany table and pencil highlights the link between today's most advanced mathematics and the earliest Greek attempts to define the subject.Richard Palais and Luc Benard of the University of California, Irvine
The Epigenetics of Identical Twins
This picture is a still from the movie, The Epigenetics of Identical Twins , which claimed first prize in the non-interactive media competition. The movie explains the power of the epigenome through the divergent characters of twins, and used only found objects as characters and props.The Genetic Science Learning Center at the University of Utah
Follow the Money: Human Mobility and Effective Communities
Also a first place finisher in the non-interactive media category, this video trances the flow of money throughout the continental US using data from the website Where's George. By visualizing the movement of $1 bills, the directors reveal how money, not arbitrary municipal boundaries, define the limits of communities in America.Christian Thiemann and Daniel Grady of Northwestern University
Brain Development
First place winner in the information graphics section, this poster combines medicine and comics to take away the intimidating air cast by neuroscience. The artists chart the ontological development of the brain using sequential art, and also highlights how environment and genetics work together in shaping our brains.Dwayne Godwin and Jorge Cham of Wake Forest University School of Medicine