Scientific Images Contest

Scientific research generates new understanding and innovation – but it can also yield unexpected, often breathtaking, beauty. This contest, and its subsequent exhibitions pique curiosity, providing new gateways into research and creative opportunities for diverse communities to connect to and explore Northwestern’s contemporary scientific research.

The contest and its resulting programs include:

  • Public exhibitions: Winning images are professionally printed and tour galleries, museums, and libraries across Chicago and Evanston.
  • Public events: Participating researchers share their work and pathways into a science career with communities across Evanston and Chicago, showcasing not only research but also the faces and voices of the scientists who bring these new discoveries to life.
  • Creative collaborations: Through a partnership with the Evanston Township High School art department, we facilitate creative dialogs between winning scientists and high school artists. High schoolers create original artworks based on the winning images and, at the joint exhibition, meet the scientists to discuss their respective pieces and its underlying research with confidence and enthusiasm.
  • Training for scientists: With support and coaching from Science in Society staff, winning researchers practice science communication skills, sharing their work through short talks and workshops connected to the exhibitions.

“Now, perhaps more than ever, it is essential to break down perceived barriers between ‘scientists’ and ‘the general public’.  We all need to think critically, understand and explore available data, and make informed decisions. I try to do my part [in breaking down these barriers] and participating in the Science in Society Images Contest is a perfect way to get involved.” – Aaron Geller, Astrophysicist and 2017 Contest 1st Place Winner

Each year, winning images are professionally printed and the exhibition is on display in several
public venues. This always includes the collaborative art-science exhibition at Evanston Township High School and the residency program at the Museum of Science and Industry. The other locations vary from year to year. 
Previous venues include Chicago Arts District, WBEZ's studio on Navy Pier, Harold Washington Library, Evanston Public Library, the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, WBEZ's North Side Community Bureau, the Chicago March for Science, the Chicago Science Festival, and the Evanston Arts Center.

“Guests, staff, and volunteers were thrilled to view the scientific images and engage with the researchers. The scientists were welcoming and engaging, which can help break down barriers and make science accessible to museum guests.” – Mandy Bobrow, Special Programs Coordinator, Museum of Science and Industry


The Scientific Images Contest first ran in 2010. Since then, the contest has evolved to display images at many new venues, a range of public-facing events and dedicated communications training for winning researchers.

Submitted by Northwestern University researchers (including students, faculty, and staff), these images represent advances across a wide range of disciplines including medicine, genetics, chemistry, engineering, and nanotechnology. Judged by an interdisciplinary panel of local artists, scientists, and community leaders, each image comes from a Northwestern research project and cannot be fundamentally altered from its original form. In essence, the images represent both scientific data and arresting visual media.

Over the years, the scientist training program has grown alongside the exhibitions. Scientists receive tailored support and have multiple opportunities to write and speak about their work. This builds their confidence and capacity to engage diverse publics and adapt their presentation skills to various environments

In 2014, Science in Society began collaborating with the Evanston Township High School (ETHS) art department on a collaborative exhibition. The goal was to provide students who may not think of themselves as scientists or scientifically-minded with opportunities to learn about contemporary science and meet real scientists. The program now includes a full day of school-based programming, a three-week exhibition in the school’s main gallery including dozens of original works and the creation of The ETHS People’s Choice Award (as voted on by ETHS students).

Visit HELIX magazine to view winning images, or click on the gallery links below:


  • In 2016, the contest was featured on Chicago Tonight. Watch the WTTW interview (skip to 36:20). 
  • In 2017, SiS staff and an ETHS art teacher presented the collaborative project at CESTEMER, a conference on collaborative, creative STEM education and STEAM.




Scientific Images Contest
Chambers Hall, 600 Foster St
Evanston, IL 60208
Phone: 847-467-3297

Get Involved!

Submissions open each spring. Exhibitions roll out the following academic year.

Submissions for Northwestern scientists open each spring. Winners are selected in the summer and exhibitions and scientist training sessions roll out the following academic year. To find out about the next open the submissions call, subscribe to the newsletter. 

To purchase fine art and canvas prints of your favorite images, visit our online store on Imagekind:

Download the "Beauty of Science" app from the iTunes Store. Click here for the app support page.

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