Physics has three winners in the Cool Science Image contest!

The winners of the UW–Madison 13th annual Cool Science Image contest were announced, and Physics has three winners! Our winners include graduate student Jacob Scott, the graduate student-professor pairing of Jimena González and Keith Bechtol, and alum Aedan Gardill, PhD ’23. Their winning images are below.

A panel of experienced artists, scientists and science communicators chose 12 winning images based on the aesthetic, creative and scientific qualities that distinguished them from scores of entries. The winning entries showcase the research, innovation, scholarship and curiosity of the UW–Madison community through visual representations of socioeconomic strata, brain cells snuffed out in Parkinson’s disease, the tangle of technology required to equip a quantum computing lab and a bug-eyed frog that opened students’ eyes to the world.

The winning images go on display this week in an exhibit at the McPherson Eye Research Institute’s Mandelbaum and Albert Family Vision Gallery on the ninth floor of the Wisconsin Institutes for Medical Research, 111 Highland Ave. The exhibit, which runs through the end of 2023, opens with a public reception at the gallery Thursday, Sept. 28, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. The exhibit also includes historical images of UW science, in celebration of the 175th anniversary of the University of Wisconsin’s founding.

The Cool Science Image Contest recognizes the technical and creative skills required to capture and create images, videos and other media that reveal something about science or nature while also leaving an impression with their beauty or ability to induce wonder. The contest is sponsored by Madison’s Promega Corp., with additional support from UW–Madison’s Office of University Communications.

a photograph of a room with the lights off, but the bulk of the image is taken up by a large piece of complicated equipment with many different colored laser lights visible, illuminating the shape of the equipment
The glow of red and green lasers and an array of supporting electronics fill a UW–Madison lab where physicists study the behavior of cesium atoms cooled within a fraction of a degree of absolute zero. The atoms could be used to store information in quantum computing systems. | Jacob Scott
an oddly-shaded portrait of physicist Marie Curie, which can only be viewed when a light polarizer is held in front of the portrait
Like the radiation she studied, this portrait of physicist Marie Curie is invisible until revealed by the proper equipment — in this case, a polarizer, a filter that blocks all light waves except those oscillating in a certain direction. One polarizing filter on the back layer of the portrait organizes the light shining through to the viewer. That light passes through layers of colorless cellophane, which rotate the waves a little or a lot depending on the layer’s thickness. A second polarizing filter, held by the viewer, filters the light again, selecting light at the wavelengths that correspond to the intended colors of the portrait. The image above is as the portrait appears viewed through a polarizer. | Aedan Gardill PhD ’23
an array of red-glowing images on a dark black background
Each image in this collage is of an astronomical phenomenon known as a strong gravitational lens, in which the light from a galaxy or cluster of galaxies is curved by a massive object in the foreground. The light is distorted into bright arcs, exhibiting physics theorized by Albert Einstein. Strong gravitational lenses offer a way to study dark matter, difficult to detect but considered a crucial factor in the structure, evolution and fate of the cosmos. | Jimena González and Keith Bechtol

Physics has lots of winners in the Cool Science Image contest!

This story is largely adapted from UW’s announcement of the 2021 Cool Science Image contest winners.

Ten images and two videos created by University of Wisconsin–Madison students, faculty and staff — including two images from Physics and one from IceCube — have been named winners of the 2021 Cool Science Image Contest.

The winners from physics include Joel Siegel, Margaret Fortman, and Gregory Holdman; from IceCube, Yuya Makino.

A panel of nine experienced artists, scientists and science communicators judged the scientific content and aesthetic and creative qualities of scores of images and videos entered in the 11th annual competition. The winning entries showcase animals and plants, the invisibly small structures all around us, and stars and nebulae millions of millions of miles away.

An exhibit featuring the winners is open to the public at the McPherson Eye Research Institute’s Mandelbaum and Albert Family Vision Gallery on the ninth floor of the Wisconsin Institutes for Medical Research, 111 Highland Ave., through December. A reception — open to the public — for the contest entrants will be held at the gallery on Oct. 7 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Winning submissions were created with point-and-shoot digital cameras, cutting-edge microscopes, and telescopes of both the backyard and mountaintop variety.

Because sometimes, there’s no substitute for the visual.

“An image often can convey meaning more effectively than words,” says Ahna Skop, a longtime contest judge, artist and UW–Madison professor of genetics and active ambassador for science. “We know from marketing and education research that adding a picture with words to a slide increases retention of knowledge by 65 percent. The visual communication of science is critical for the transference of knowledge broadly.”

The winning entries from Physics/IceCube


greyscale abstract image of things that appear to look like 3D towers in the shape of snowflakes
By varying the exact size and shape of these micrometer-wide, star-shaped pillars etched into a silicon wafer, researchers can carefully manipulate light passing through a lens to correct for aberrations that would otherwise focus different wavelengths of light on different points in space. | Gregory Holdman, graduate student, Physics, focused ion beam and scanning electron microscope


image looks like a black and white maze
Mazes of tiny structures less than 15 billionths of a meter across and made of some of the smallest ribbons of graphene — layers of carbon just a single atom thick — ever fabricated represent an important step toward graphene-based telecommunications devices. | Joel Siegel and Margaret Fortman, graduate students, Physics; Jian Sun, graduate student, Materials Science; Jonathan Dwyer, PhD alumnus, Chemical Engineering, scanning electron microscope


a bundled up person in the snow with the neon green glow of an aurora overhead
A “winterover” — one of the two staff members who stay through the minus-100-degree Fahrenheit nights of Antarctica’s coldest months — hikes underneath the stars and aurora to the South Pole home of IceCube, a UW–Madison-led neutrino telescope frozen in a cubic kilometer of ice. | Yuya Makino, assistant scientist, IceCube Neutrino Observatory, digital camera