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The Art of Science exhibition explores the interplay between science and art. These practices both involve the pursuit of those moments of discovery when what you perceive suddenly becomes more than the sum of its parts. Each piece in this exhibition is, in its own way, a record of such a moment.
This is the fifth Art of Science competition hosted by Princeton University. The 2011 competition drew 168 submissions from 20 departments. The exhibit includes work by undergraduates, faculty, research staff, graduate students, and alumni.

The 56 works chosen for the 2011 Art of Science exhibition represent this year’s theme of “intelligent design” which we interpret in the broadest sense. These extraordinary images are not art for art’s sake. Rather, they were produced during the course of scientific research. Entries were chosen for their aesthetic excellence as well as scientific or technical interest.
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The magnetic field of the Earth has reversed its polarity several hundred times during the past 160 million years. Polarity reversals are known to be strongly irregular and chaotic, and the reversal durations are relatively short (typically a few thousand years) compared with the constant polarity intervals between reversals.
This image shows a simple deterministic model illustrating the geomagnetic reversals. The model is based on the non-linear interaction between two magnetic modes (dipole and quadrupole) and one velocity component of the Earth’s core flow, and the image shows typical trajectories in the 3D phase space. The corresponding strange attractor reproduces irregular reversals between two symmetrical states. (Christophe Gissinger / Dept. of Astrophysical Sciences/ Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory)
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As part of my research I am designing intelligent image decomposition algorithms that split an image into sub-images in a way that best captures important image structure. Natural images have structure. Understanding this structure and being able to decompose an image in a way that respects this structure is an important aspect of computational image processing.
The algorithm used here recursively cuts an image into smaller rectangular pieces. For each cut, a larger rectangle is divided either horizontally or vertically into two equal smaller rectangles. This results in a division of the input image into many rectangular pieces, similar to those shown, organized into a data structure called a dyadic tree. (Zhen James Xiang / Dept. of Electrical Engineering)
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Planets form from the coagulation of tiny solid particles (dust) in a gaseous protoplanetary disk, requiring growth over 40 orders of magnitude in particle mass. A crucial stage in planet formation involves making kilometer-sized planetesimals from millimeter to centimeter sized pebbles. This image illustrates this process: aerodynamical interactions between the gas and the pebbles collect the latter into very dense clumps (bright regions), almost as if by design. In turn, these clumps become planetesimals: the building blocks of planets. The image is taken from a hydrodynamical simulation of a protoplanetary disk, in which the dynamics and feedback from millions of small solid particles is included self-consistently. The unstable clumping of particles was predicted in research conducted at Princeton by A. Youdin and J. Goodman. (Xuening Bai / James M. Stone (fac) Dept. of Astrophysical Sciences Planets)
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Arsenic sulphide dissolved in a solution displays colorful random patterns after being spin-coated and baked on a chrome-evaporated glass slide. (Yunlai Zha / Dept. of Electrical Engineering)
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Arsenic sulphide dissolved in solution displays colorful random patterns after being spin-coated and baked on a chrome-evaporate glass slide. (Yunlai Zha / Dept. of Electrical Engineering)
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This is a pyramidal neuron from the hippocampus, a part of the brain where some kinds of memories are formed. This neuron has been labeled with fluorescent antibodies so that we can visualize microtubules (shown in green), which form a structural network inside the neuron, and insulin receptors (shown in red), which are cell surface proteins that instruct neurons to make connections with other neurons. These connections, called synapses, become stronger or weaker as memories are constructed. (Lisa Boulanger / Dept. of Molecular Biology and Princeton Neuroscience Institute)
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This is a detail of an immunofluorescence image of the surface of the lung of a bearded dragon embryo (Pogona vitticeps). Nuclei are stained red and the actin cytoskeleton is stained green. The image reveals a nested hierarchy of tubes designed for effective gas exchange, which develops in the embryo even before the animal breathes air. (Celeste Nelson / Dept. of Chemical and Biological Engineering)
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These images are vertical cross-sectional images of embryos of Drosophila melanogaster — otherwise known as the common fruit fly. The images, obtained using a confocal microscope, are of embryos stained with antibodies in order to visualize molecules that subdivide the embryo into three tissue types: muscle, nervous system, and skin.
Obtaining such images is an engineering challenge since it requires upright positioning of a tiny embryo, which is ellipsoid in shape and only a half-millimeter long. (Yoosik Kim, Stanislav Shvartsman / Dept. of Chemical and Biological Engineering)

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In developing next-generation autonomous underwater vehicles we look for inspiration from the intelligent designs observed in nature.
For this image, two artificial fish fins are placed side-by-side and flapped in-phase with each another as water flows past the fins (flow direction is up). Small hydrogen bubbles (the white part of the image) allow for the wake of the fins to be visualized. The interaction of the fins creates two repeating patterns of swirling vortices known as vortex streets. (Birgitt Boschitsch, Peter Dewey, Alexander Smits / Dept. of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering)


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A wireless graphene sensor is patterned on water soluble silk film. The image shows the sensor transferred onto a cow tooth surface by dissolving the supporting silk film. The gold electrodes and coil form the main components of the wireless circuit. The graphene layer under the electrodes can detect bacterial contamination and can be read out wirelessly. (Manu Sebastian Mannoor, Michael McAlpine / Dept. of Mechanical and Aerospace Enginneering)
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A ferrofluid is a liquid mixed with small metallic particles that can become magnetized in the presence of a magnetic field. Ferrofluids are used in electronics, spacecraft, and medicine, but are also a fascinating way to visualize a magnetic field in three dimensions. A ferrofluid is known for having properties of two different states of matter: liquid and solid. Whether a ferrofluid is a liquid or a solid depends upon whether a magnetic field is present. Unlike a flower floating on the surface of a pond (where the flower is a solid and the water a liquid), with a ferrofluid the “flower” and the “water” are the same material. (Elle Starkman / Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory)
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This creature was captured by the 2010 FSS 114 class of 2010 and imaged using the PRISM imaging and Analysis Center Quanta 200f Environmental Scanning Electron Microscope, which allows us to see nanostructures in their native state with extraordinary three-dimensional clarity. ESEM images are originally black and white. But colors can be added subsequently (such as the green and orange in this image) by assigning a given color to a specific gray scale. The creature we see in this image is about 15 microns wide. (Nan Yao, Gerald Poirier, Shiyou Xu / PRISM Imaging and Analysis Center)
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At top is a simulated compound-eye view showing how a Great Spangled Fritillary Butterfly sees another Great Spangled Fritillary Butterfly from different distances. Eye-to-subject distances are: extreme upper left and barely visible 4.3 meters’ distance, then 2.1 meters, 1.2 meters, 71 centimeters, 38 centimeters, and finally the largest image you see on the top right, at only 18 centimeters’ distance.
Below is a simulated view at 7 centimeters (left), compared to the original photograph (right). At 18 centimeters a striking phenomenon occurs: if the “eye” or the subject moves slightly, large portions of the field of view seem to flash between all orange and all black. (Henry S. Horn / Dept. of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology)
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We captured this image using a microscope with dark field imaging and a red light filter. What you see is a single bend in a superconducting microwave coplanar transmission line magified to 50 times its original size.
What appears to be an aqueous solution of cosmic sediment in a test tube is actually a collection of impurities on the surface of the transmission line that accumulated during the fabrication process. (Devin Underwood, James Raftery, Will Shanks / Dept. of Electrical Engineering)
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Hybrid inorganic/polymer-based photovoltaic nanodevices offer the promise of low-cost large-area conversion of solar energy to electricity. Nanostructures of zinc oxide have shown supreme capabilities in emerging technologies ranging from solar energy harvesting to biosensing. However, the ability to control the size and position of these nanostructures is crucial for fabricating nanodevices with remarkable properties and astonishing solar energy conversion efficiencies.
Here is a scanning electron micrograph of zinc oxide nanostructures prepared by low temperature hydrothermal methods. The nanoarray alas came out in this less-than-ideal velvety rug configuration. (Luisa Whittaker and Yueh-Lin “Lynn” Loo / Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering)
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This is a caustic directional map of a teapot. Each layer represents light from a different latitude: The inner layer is at 90 degrees, the next at 75, then 60, 45, 30, and 15. Then each image within the layer represents a different longitudinal angle. The images are arranged roughly corresponding to where the caustic would shine for light hitting from that specific direction; thus, an image at the top left corresponds to light coming in nearly horizontally from the bottom right.
This is a result of non-interactive pre-processed ray tracing that presents a designer with a wide array of possible directional caustics all at once, in an intuitive manner. (Rafi Romero / 2012 Dept. of Computer Science)
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Spirals, a family of beautiful and elegant geometrical curves with fascinating methematical properties, are present everywhere in the universe on a vast range of scales: nautilus, hurricanes, galaxies, etc. Here we applied such delightful curves to our laser cavity designs.
By connecting a spiral semiconductor micro-structure to a straight one, we achieved a coupled-cavity design, in which the spiral section enhances the mode-selectivity that would facilitate single-mode operation of Quantum Cascade lasers and potentially other types of semiconductor lasers. The photo shows the topview of a laser with such a cavity design. The surface of the device is covered with gold for conducting electric current. That’s why the photo is titled “The Golden Spiral.” (Peter Q. Liu / Dept. of Electrical Engineering Spirals)
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Simulated black-hole outflow powered by magnetic fields, which obstruct matter infall onto the hole. Here we see a meridional slice through the time-averaged flow. The black dot in the center shows the black hole horizon; grey lines show matter streamlines; red lines show field lines; and green lines show the boundary between the inflow and outflow. (Alexander Tchekhovskoy, Ramesh Narayan, Jonathan C. McKinney / Princeton / Harvard / Stanford)
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