The 2021 winners: Cool Science Image Contest

Cool Sciences images
Left: White matter, the connective nerve tissue of the brain, has been colored according to the predominant orientation of fibers — red, right-left; green, front-back; blue, up-down — in different regions of the human brain to reveal pathways traversing the regions. Understanding white matter organization may offer insights into normal brain development as well as into the study of neurological disorders. Jose Guerrero, postdoctoral fellow, Medical Physics; Andrew Alexander, professor, Medical Physics; Peter Ferrazzano professor, Pediatrics, Magnetic resonance imaging scanner. Right: The yellow connecting arms, called axons, of diseased human brain cells grow willy-nilly across boundaries of inhibitory chemicals (the red stripes). Healthy axons would precisely follow the dark lanes, giving researchers the opportunity to test the effects of disease-causing mutations on axon growth. Timothy Catlett graduate student, Cell and Molecular Biology; Timothy Gomez, professor, Neuroscience, Confocal microscope

Ten images and two videos created by University of Wisconsin–Madison students, faculty and staff have been named winners of the 2021 Cool Science Image Contest.

A panel of nine experienced artists, scientists and science communicators judged the scientific content and aesthetic and creative qualities of scores of images and videos entered in the 11th annual competition. The winning entries showcase animals and plants, the invisibly small structures all around us, and stars and nebulae millions of millions of miles away.

An exhibit featuring the winners is open to the public at the McPherson Eye Research Institute’s Mandelbaum and Albert Family Vision Gallery on the ninth floor of the Wisconsin Institutes for Medical Research, 111 Highland Ave., through December. A reception — open to the public — for the contest entrants will be held at the gallery on Oct. 7 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Winning submissions were created with point-and-shoot digital cameras, cutting-edge microscopes, and telescopes of both the backyard and mountaintop variety.

Because sometimes, there’s no substitute for the visual.

“An image often can convey meaning more effectively than words,” says Ahna Skop, a longtime contest judge, artist and UW–Madison professor of genetics and active ambassador for science. “We know from marketing and education research that adding a picture with words to a slide increases retention of knowledge by 65 percent. The visual communication of science is critical for the transference of knowledge broadly.


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The 2021 winners: Cool Science Image Contest