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Worth a Thousand Words: An Art and a Science

UW researchers showcase the beauty of science in this collection of contest-winning Cool Science Images.

A rendering of the protein tyrosine kinase B.

The green represents tyrosine kinase B, a protein that protects neurons from oxygen deprivation in mice. UW researchers hope to harness the power of this protein into a drug to keep babies safe from oxygen deprivation during pregnancy complications. Image by 2017 contest winners Jayadevi Chandrashekhar and Kaylyn Freeman ’18.

Since 2011, UW students, faculty, and researchers have competed in the campuswide Cool Science Images contest and turned an artistic eye to their microscopes, scans, and schematics. With entries exploding with color and exciting patterns, this annual competition works to open people’s eyes to the beauty of science. And much of this UW research looks even better when you find out how it might advance medicine and improve life for people in Wisconsin and beyond. Read more about the science behind each winning image in the gallery below, then check out the 2023 winners.

X-rays of lungs laid out in a grid.

Generative adversarial networks, or GANs, are computing networks used in medical imaging. These grids compare X-rays of healthy lungs (center row) with those infected with COVID (top) and pneumonia (bottom). Image by 2022 contest winners Dalton Griner MS’19, PhD’23 and Xin Tie MS’21, PhDx’24.

A rat's vagus nerve with a colorful filter.

Did you know that a rat’s vagus nerve and neck muscles could look so pretty? A polarizing filter, demonstrated above, could help surgeons distinguish between types of fragile tissue when they operate. Image by 2022 contest winners Rex Chin-Hao Chen PhDx’24, Bruce Knudsen, Matthew LaLuzerne ’22, MS’23, MSx’24, James Trevathan, Kip Ludwig.

A microscopic view of arabitol using a filter that gives it a stained-glass effect.

Arabitol, a sugar alcohol, takes on a stained-glass appearance with the use of a polarizer. The crystalline structure determines the effectiveness of a product, whether a pharmaceutical drug, LCD screen, or even chocolate. Image by 2022 contest winner Amy Neusaenger PhDx’24.

A scan of a human brain showing its connective fibers.

This kaleidoscopic view illustrates how white matter fibers, or connective tissue, are oriented throughout the human brain. Mapping out these fibers can help researchers understand brain development and neurological disorders. Image by 2021 contest winners Jose Guerrero MS’16, PhD’20 and Peter Ferrazzano.

An X-ray of flowers dotted with calcium deposits.

These flowers are dotted with tiny calcifications — much like breast tissue in the early stages of cancer. UW researchers are working to make it easier and faster to identify cancerous patterns, allowing patients to start treatment earlier. Image by 2020 contest winners Ran Zhang and Dalton Griner MS’19, PhD’23.

A microscopic view of the cells that line blood vessels in the human body.

These human endothelial cells, embedded in a special hydrogel, are forming tunnels that may help insulin-producing islet cells survive longer after culturing. This gel could be key to a new therapy option for patients with diabetes. Image by 2019 contest winners Dan Tremmel ’10, PhD’22 and Vansh Jain ’19, MDx’24.

A microscopic view of developing blood vessels in the face of a mouse embryo.

This micrograph shows blood vessels developing in the face of an 11-day-old mouse embryo. You’d see a similar face if you looked at a human embryo at 34 days. Image by 2018 contest winner Hannah Chung MS’18.

Human fibroblast cells embedded in parsley scaffolding.

Parsley plus human fibroblast cells, shown in red, together form a base for growing stem cells. This scaffolding might one day work to repair bone and tissue. Image by 2017 contest winner Gianluca Fontana.

Stained antibodies and proteins that resemble a splotchy painting.

This Monet-like image resulted from staining antibodies and proteins that exist in human tissue. The technique helps researchers track protein activity throughout the immune response. By understanding how disease attacks the body, scientists can develop more effective ways to fight back. Image by 2016 contest winner Wei-Hua Lee.

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