Microscopes and soap bubbles create stunning images


collage of winner photosThese are the prize-winning images from this year's Art of Science Competition. At left, Crystals in Bloom. At upper right, Iridescence in Motion and, at lower right, The Butterfly Effect.

 What do electron microscopes, decellularization, and immunofluoresence have in common with an artist’s palette of oil paints?

University of Rochester students and researchers deftly used cutting edge lab technologies like these to create many of the images entered in this year’s annual Art of Science Competition. The goal of the competition, which is sponsored by the Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences in collaboration with River Campus Libraries, is to “explore and illuminate the aesthetic beauty that results when science, art, and technology intersect.”

 For example, first place winner Michael Klaczko, a PhD candidate in chemistry, used a scanning electron microscope to capture an image of hydroxyapatite crystals. He then added colors in photoshop, resulting in “Crystals in Bloom.”

Third-place winner Anna Lussier ’23, a studio arts major, borrowed a tissue-engineering technique from her collaborator, Sarah Broas ’23, a biochemistry major, to show how the injection of sodium dodecyl sulfate explodes the contents of a cell, leaving behind, in this case, the cellulose structure of a leaf. Multiple leaves were arranged to create “The Butterfly Effect.”

 However, the second place and People’s Choice prizes both went to Benjamin Margulies ’24, an optics major, who used more commonplace items--light shining onto a soap bubble, captured through a camera lens--to produce “Iridescence in Motion.”

 “This image shows the absolute magic that is light,” he says. “What we observe as all these different colors is the white light being broken up into its component wavelengths by interference.”

 The competition, which was open to currently enrolled students, faculty, and staff at the University, received 48 submissions representing 16 different disciplines, says Brian McIntyre, director of operations at URNano and one of the organizers of the competition. 397 members of the University community cast their votes for the People’s Choice award.

The prizes are $1,000 for first place, $500 for second place, and $250 each for third place and People’s Choice. The winning entries will be displayed in Carlson Library.

“The Art of Science competition highlights the importance of communicating science in accessible and engaging ways,” says Wendi Heinzelman, dean of the Hajim School. “The submissions this year were truly breath-taking, and the creativity of our students, faculty and staff is always inspiring.  Thank you to Brian McIntyre, Michelle Dunn, and the rest of the Art of Science team for all of their hard work that enables us to continue hosting this important competition each year.”

Due to COVID restrictions, submissions and judging were done remotely. However, Heinzelman announced the winners at an in-person, outdoors event as a part of a celebration of the 75th anniversary of the ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) student chapter.

Many of the competitors expressed their hopes that viewers would draw new insights from the images they created at the intersection of art and science.

For example, Lussier says the transparency of the leaves in “The Butterfly Effect” alludes to the “need for transparency within scientific advancements, as it is with the scientific method.”

 This is especially relevant given the current doubts about scientific findings, for example the doubt surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine and the threat of climate change, she says. “In order to ameliorate this disconnect, our piece proposes that transparency is key to regain the public’s trust. Small steps towards this goal will achieve a more expansive societal shift--the butterfly effect.”