FEBRUARY 3, 2012

2011 International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge
By Colin Norman, Science, Vol. 335 no. 6068, February 3, 2012

The spectacular orange-colored blossoms on the cover of this week's issue of Science are not what they appear to be. Turn to page 530, and you will find that the image is, in fact, a depiction of the network of voids in the cosmic web; each void can be tens of millions of light-years across. The eye-catching rendering is one of the winning entries in the 2011 International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge.

Science and the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) have cosponsored this annual challenge for the past 9 years. The aim is to promote cutting-edge efforts to visualize scientific data, principles, and ideas—skills that are critical for communication among scientists and between scientists and the general public, especially students. Rapid technological change is opening new vistas in visualizing data: This year's winners include a cross-section of an eye in which different cell types are each colored a unique shade, an interactive game in which players try to mimic nature's amazing capacity for folding proteins, and a video that assembles a cell's jumble of components into an ordered assortment.

We received 212 entries from 33 countries. (U.S. entries came from 24 states and territories.) A committee of staff members from Science and NSF screened the entries and, in a new departure this year, those selected as finalists were posted on NSF's Web site, and visitors were invited to vote for their top choice in each category. A total of 3200 votes came in; entries that received the most votes were named the “People's Choice.” Independently, an outside panel of experts in scientific visualization reviewed the finalists and selected the winners. The winning entries are featured on the following pages, in an online slideshow at http://scim.ag/y41Bht, and at www.nsf.gov/news/scivis. Some entries were put together by large teams, not all of whose members could be listed in print; the online presentations provide more details. Tarri Joyner and Zachariah Miller of NSF organized this year's challenge. Daniel Strain of Science's News staff wrote the text that accompanies the images in this special section.

We encourage you to submit applications for next year's challenge, details of which will be available on NSF's Web site, and to join us in celebrating this year's winners.

Laura GonzalezInteractive Games Honorable Mention
Powers of Minus Ten
Laura Lynn Gonzalez
Green-Eye Visualization

Instead of playing Angry Birds on their iPads, high school–age students can use their hand-held devices to take a trip into the hand itself. In Powers of Minus Ten, developed by Laura Lynn Gonzalez of Green-Eye Visualization, players take a scavenger hunt through the skin on the human hand and into individual cells—just by flicking their fingers.

Gonzalez's game, also available on the PC, is loosely based on the famous 1968 short film Powers of Ten, which traveled from outer space, then deep into the human body. When players zip past the skin on the hand and enter a cell, they see animated chromosomes and proteins buzzing like Las Vegas street signs. Kids can tap on these cellular structures to learn more about them. The app is constantly evolving: Players will soon be able to delve inside the mitochondria and even zoom down to the atomic level, Gonzalez says.

Too often at this magnification, “people get lost,” Gonzalez says. She hopes her interactive tour will help students learn their way around a cell. So, no angry birds but a lot of happy teachers.