Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge

Body Code Drew Berry
I recently mentioned in an earlier post that the Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge is off and running. I’m highly anticipating this year’s winners. Each year we advance so much in imaging and visualization techniques that I can’t even begin to image what we’ll see this time.

Anyway, here is an interview with Jeff Nesbit, of the National Science Foundation, about the challenge.

[Interview via NSF]

March 9, 2007“ Arlington, VA. “The annual Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge is now underway. Co-sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Science, the flagship publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Visualization Challenge is a prestigious competition to find the photographs, illustrations, and digital media that best communicate science, engineering, and technology for education and journalistic purposes.Jeff Nesbit, Director of NSF’s Office of Legislative and Public Affairs, answers questions about the Challenge:

Q: This year marks the fifth Visualization Challenge. What are you expecting?
Nesbit: I’m expecting to be amazed. The intersection of penetrating research, vigorous creativity, and newly imagined perspectives has never failed to produce anything but visual expressions of science that both inform and delight. I expect this year’s entries will top anything we’ve seen before.

Q: But isn’t this just a beauty contest; an art project for scientists?
Nesbit: Far from it. The ability to communicate scientific findings and engineering explorations visually is rapidly becoming a requirement for all researchers. We used to say publish or perish in academics to emphasize the importance of sharing our findings. Now we should add to that Visualize or Vanish!

Q: Why is sharing of this kind so important?
Nesbit: Because so often the most powerful use or insight from a discovery or creation is made not by the originators but by those who learned of it later. In the 1950s, the worldwide need for computers was expected to be less than half a dozen. Today, my car has more than four dozen computers, all more powerful than those of 50 years ago.

Q: But does that sharing have to be done visually?
Nesbit: No, but it surely helps. Humans have a native ability to organize and make sense of their world visually. What was once literally an aid to survival now helps us quickly grasp aspects of this world that we will never actually see. Imagine trying to describe in words the stunning vistas seen in pictures taken by the Hubble telescope.

Q: Are you describing visualizations or imaginings?
Nesbit: In some sense, both. I’d put it this way: Show us something real, based on the best evidence and the most rigorous research, from a vantage point that tells us more but might otherwise be impossible to achieve. That way we can look inside atoms or peer over the event horizon of black holes.

Q: So the imagination comes in just from aspects of perspective or scale?
Nesbit: It’s also there in terms of translating the world into the visual vocabulary of humans. If you were to stand out in space and look at what the Hubble sees, you’d probably see mostly darkness, not those glorious colors in the posters. That’s because most of the emissions from distant galaxies or dust clouds take place outside of the visual spectrum, in the infrared or x-ray bands. So we assign colors to the images so we can see them but we don’t make up what’s being colored.

Q: Remind us again about the entry deadline and where to find more information.
Nesbit: This year’s entry deadline is May 31st. For rules, entry forms, and more information, see: or contact Susan S. Mason, OLPA/NSF at 703.292.7748 or