Visualization and the Communication of Science

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Science  12 Sep 2003:
Vol. 301, Issue 5639, pp. 1472-1473
DOI: 10.1126/science.301.5639.1472a

Data may be the gold standard of science, but they don't exactly glitter. A neat table of values cannot convey the significance, context, or excitement of research results to anyone besides other scientists in the same subfield. No one else quite gets the picture— including the larger community that supports the global research enterprise.

So it's not surprising that more and more scientists are striving to illustrate and explain their work with digitized images, color diagrams, and even multimedia. This effort, visible weekly on the cover and pages of Science and other journals, must increase. It is especially important because investigators at the outermost frontiers of science and engineering frequently study phenomena that are extremely difficult for most scientists to visualize, and downright formidable for the general public.

To recognize and encourage visualization in the communication of science, and to showcase the exceptional talents of those who work in this area, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Science cosponsored the first annual Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge. Earlier this year, we invited entries in three categories: photography, multimedia, and illustration. Those judged best in each category would be featured in Science. We received 297 entries, which were screened by an internal NSF and Science committee. A panel of experts in scientific visualization then reviewed the 30 finalists and selected the winners, whose work appears in these pages. We congratulate the winners and all the other entrants, whose combined work attests to the vitality of scientific visualization.

Susan Mason of NSF organized this year's challenge; Naomi Lubick of Science's News staff wrote the text that accompanies the winning images. Stewart Wills and Tara Marathe of Science have put together a special Web presentation, including audiovisual clips, at

We intend to make the challenge an annual event. Entries for 2004 will be solicited early next year through announcements in Science and elsewhere.






Donna J. Cox

Professor, School of Art and Design, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign Specialist in three-dimensional computer animation

Felice Frankel

Research Scientist, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge Science photographer and director, Envisioning Science Project

Jon Franklin

Professor of Journalism, University of Maryland, College Park Pulitzer Prize-winning science journalist formerly at The Baltimore Sun

Gary Lees

Chair and Director, Department of Art as Applied to Medicine, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland Specialist in medical illustration

Thomas Lucas

Thomas Lucas Productions, New York City Producer of science documentaries

Boyce Rensberger

Director, Knight Science Journalism Fellowships, MIT Science journalist formerly at The Washington Post and The New York Times

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