Winners of the 2023 UChicago Science as Art competition announced

The University of Chicago has announced the winners of its 2023 Science as Art contest, which highlights images of innovative scientific research from the UChicago community.

The contest drew 50 entries from undergraduates, graduate students, staff, alumni, postdoctoral researchers and faculty members, showcasing everything from fossils to fly anatomy. Together, these images display the pursuit of knowledge in a new light, underscoring the beauty of intellectual exploration.

The grand-prize winner, chosen by a team of judges, is Origami in a Tube by Di Wang, chemist and Ph.D student.

Wang is part of a team researching new ways to make atomically thin layers of metal called MXenes (pronounced “maxeens”). These are exceptionally tiny structures that scientists think may be useful for future electronics and energy storage devices, but had previously been hard to make. The new method is not only easier, but also creates beautiful flower-like structures.

This image was taken using a scanning electron microscope, which is the only way to see such tiny structures. Each “flower” is far smaller than the diameter of a single human hair.

The second-place winner is Exploring a Microcosm,” by Pengju Li, materials scientist and Ph.D student with the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering.

This is a microscope image of tiny, teardrop-shaped structures made of silicon as part of Li’s research into new kinds of materials for energy storage. To make these structures, Li used a chemical etching process to create extremely tiny pores on the surface that interact with light to display vibrant colors. The result? Structures that can also absorb light and convert it to energy, like solar panels do–but are also visually beautiful.

The audience favorite, chosen by a March Madness-style bracket on UChicago’s social media channels, is Fuchsia Bone,” a photograph of a fossil whale bone through a microscope taken by geophysical scientist and PhD student Rachel Laker.

It is a section of bone from a toothed whale from the Miocene epoch (about 15 million years old), sliced thin and placed under a petrographic microscope using cross-polarized light and a gypsum plate. The gypsum plate has the effect of turning the image pink. 

Laker took the image while examining the fossil for microscopic taphonomic damage, which records what happened to the bone after the animal died but before it was buried and became a fossil.

Two entries also received honorable mentions:

BEACON on a Hill” by Cosmin Deaconu, research assistant professor in astronomy and astrophysics, is a photograph taken of an experiment called BEACON in the White Mountains of California at an altitude of 12,700 feet. Deaconu and colleagues are working on BEACON to see if they can detect extremely high-energy particles called neutrinos by searching for the radio signals produced as the particles zip through the Earth.

Deaconu wrote, “The relatively remote BEACON site is also a very great place to look at the sky in the old-fashioned way, with the naked eye. This picture was taken with a wide-angle lens on a Canon DSLR with a tripod and an approximately 20 second exposure. A flashlight was used to illuminate the antenna for a portion of the exposure.”

Nebula” by undergraduate researcher Kaylie Scorza, is a microscope image taken of crystals produced as part of a sterilizing process in preparation for growing bacteria. Scorza added polarizing filters to illuminate the rich geometric patterns of the compound, and lightly retouched the image for clarity, but it is otherwise unaltered.

View the full, stunning set of entries at the Flickr gallery »

Winners and entries will be displayed around campus in the coming year.