2017 Scientific Images Contest Winners Revealed at Evanston Township High School

CIERA's black hole simulation sweeps contest
Paige Edmiston
November 6, 2017

On Thursday, November 2, Science in Society announced the winners of the 2017 Northwestern Scientific Images Contest. The winners were announced during an exhibition launch and reception held at Evanston Township High School (ETHS).

Aaron Geller, an astronomer with a joint appointment to Northwestern’s Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics (CIERA) and the Adler Planetarium, swept both 1st place and the People’s Choice Award with his computer simulation of a dense star cluster. (The People’s Choice Award is voted on by the students of ETHS.) Geller has participated in the contest and related outreach activities for the past few years, but this is his first win.

“Astronomy is a great entry point into science, and through engaging the public with astronomy we can share a love of science, the scientific method, and the drive to think critically about our world,” said Geller.

Each year, the Scientific Images Contest invites Northwestern scientists and engineers from a variety of fields to submit their research-based images. A panel of judges, including both scientists and artists, selects the prize-winning images for an exhibition that showcases the aesthetic side of research. Whether captured by a scanning electron microscope or generated by a computer simulation, these images display both a range of cutting-edge Northwestern research and unexpected and often breathtaking beauty.

This beauty serves as a conversation starter for the winning researchers, who travel with the exhibition to galleries, museums, and libraries across Evanston and Chicago to talk about their work with the public. Science in Society staff provide the researchers with public communications training, and each exhibition venue is a chance for the researchers to practice what they’ve learned.

“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,” Geller said. "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 talks astronomy with an ETHS student at the exhibition launch and reception.

The first stop for the winners and their images each fall is Evanston Township High School. This year, six of the participating researchers (inlcuding Geller) visited the high school, talking with students about their work. Over the course of the school day, thirty arts and science classes  – and an estimated 450 high school students – enjoyed a first look at the exhibition and asked the scientists questions about their images and research.

As in year’s past, students from the school’s art department created original artworks, inspired by the twelve research images. This year, participating classes included AP Drawing & Painting and Sculpture 2. 

“The idea to have the students create artwork based on our images is brilliant, and the results this year were amazing,” Geller commented. “I especially like that the art students aren’t told explicitly what the images represent — the students get to interpret our images as an artist would interpret a work of art.”

The exhibition also included new works by ETHS physics and chemistry students, photographs created as part of a course assignment to capture physics phenomena in action. In total, the exhibition featured more than 50 pieces of original work and emphasized the connections between art and science, and the growing partnership between Northwestern and ETHS.

The exhibition launch Thursday night culminated with the announcement of the contest’s winners. The following researchers – from a diverse range of Northwestern labs and centers – took home the top prizes:

1st Place: Aaron Geller, CIERA, Black Hole Encounters

2nd Place: Adam Jakus, Department of Materials Science & Engineering, 3D-Printed Copper or Air?

3rd Place: Finote Gijsman, Department of Plant Biology and Conservation, Dispersing the Seeds of Life

4th Place: Eric Roth, Kelleher Research Group & the NUANCE Bio-Cryo facility, The Fungal Jungle

5th Place: Nick Sather, Department of Materials Science & Engineering, The Salty Night

You can view all 12 winning images and learn more in this online gallery, hosted by HELIX magazine.

The exhibition will run at ETHS until November 9 and will move to Evanston Public Library in early December. The library exhibition will include both the Northwestern Scientific Images Contest winners and a selection of the ETHS student artworks.

This initiative and exhibition program is made possible with funding from the Northwestern Office for Research. Subscribe to the Science in Society newsletter or follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates on future exhibition and events. 

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