Introduction to special issue

2004 Visualization Challenge

Science  24 Sep 2004:
Vol. 305, Issue 5692, pp. 1903
DOI: 10.1126/science.305.5692.1903

A multicolored deer tick latched onto the ear of a hamster … water molecules shuttling across a cell membrane … a bat's sonar locking onto its prey … the cauldron of Mount Etna getting ready to rumble. The following pages bring to life intricate interactions, from the workings of cells to the geological processes that threaten cities. These stunning visualizations won top honors in the second Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge, co- sponsored by Science and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

We launched this annual international competition last year to showcase and encourage an increasingly important aspect of science: the ability to convey the essence and excitement of research in digitized images, color diagrams, and even multimedia presentations. Investigators at the outermost frontiers of science and engineering frequently study phenomena that are extremely difficult even for most scientists to visualize—and downright formidable for the general public that ultimately supports the global research enterprise. When that research is depicted vividly and comprehensibly in pictures, everybody benefits.

For this year's challenge, we invited submissions in five categories: photography, illustration, informational graphics, and two kinds of multimedia: interactive and noninteractive. Entries were screened by a committee from NSF and Science. Then an independent panel of experts in scientific visualization reviewed the 50 finalists and selected the best, which appear in these pages. (This year, the judges decided not to name an overall winner in interactive graphics in part because they felt that no single entry combined excellent graphics with full interactivity.) We congratulate the winners and all the other entrants.

Susan Mason of NSF organized this year's challenge; David Grimm of Science's News staff wrote the text that accompanies the winning images. Stewart Wills of Science has put together a special Web presentation, including audiovisual clips, at Winning submissions will also be featured at the AAAS annual meeting in February.

Entries for 2005 are being solicited now through announcements in Science and on the NSF Web site. We urge all researchers and science communicators to participate in this unique and inspiring competition.

Panel of Judges

Donna J. Cox


School of Art and Design,

University of Illinois,

Urbana- Champaign

Specialist in three-dimensional computer animation

Felice Frankel

Research Scientist,

Massachusetts Institute of Technology,


Science photographer and director, Envisioning Science Project

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


Knight Science Journalism Fellowships,


Science journalist formerly at The Washington Post and The New York Times

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