8 Of The Year’s Most Oddly Gorgeous Science Images

A water slide for worms, the glorious C. instagram, and more

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Is this the era of C. instagram? That’s the clever name of a cellphone photo one undergraduate took of a plate crawling with C. elegans (it kind of rhymes). Caenorhabditis elegans are microscopic worms that scientists commonly use to study genetics.

The student, Meredith Wright of Princeton University, initially snapped the picture after seeing the plate in lab and thinking it was “particularly lovely,” she wrote in an explanation accompanying her photo.

Later, she submitted her image to Princeton’s Art of Science contest. Princeton then picked 43 images, including hers, to display in the Friend Center campus. Click here for a look at some our favorites.

Whoosh. This illustration shows constant east-to-west (red) and west-to-east (blue) winds on Earth, averaged over time. It won a first place prize from Princeton’s panel of judges, which included photographers, a poet and Princeton faculty, including a molecular biologist.
It’s no coincidence this photo looks a bit spongy. It shows cellulose, a starch that gives plants structure and is used to make some kitchen sponges. This cellulose comes from a piece of birch wood that undergraduate Michael Kosk crushed in a materials science class, he wrote in an explanation accompanying the photo. His submission won second place from the judges.
Here’s the C. elegans photo Wright took with her phone. It shows the worms clumping together after they have eaten all of their food, E. coli bacteria. She actually did share this picture on Instagram and got a lot of responses from non-scientist friends, she wrote.
Truly anonymous? Computer science graduate student Ohad Fried created this image from video that had been “anonymized” to blur identifying faces. He took data from individual video frames, he said in a brief explanation accompanying the image.
It looks large in this photo, but this device is actually just two centimeters long. And it has a strange job. It sorts C. elegans, those genetic-study worms. Worm mothers live in each of the device’s 16 chambers, in the center, under controlled conditions. When the female worms’ eggs hatch, scientists flush water through the device to move all the worm larva into the counting area at the right.
This pretty seven-panel series actually shows the failure, over 15 minutes, of a high-tech material called nano-crystalline silicon thin film. Materials scientists dread seeing this this snake-like pattern, graduate students Josue Sanz-Robinson and Warren Rieutort-Louis wrote. They even quoted The Temptations in their caption.
This photo shows four nurse cells from a fruit fly. In a female fruit fly’s ovary, 15 nurse cells surround each egg cell. The “nurses” make RNA—genetic material that’s made from a DNA pattern—and deposit it into the egg. Here, the nurse cells’ DNA have been marked with blue. Each dot of red or green is one molecule of RNA. This image won the Art of Science contest’s people’s choice award.