A electron microscope image taken by Harvard scientists recently won first place in the photography category of the prestigious International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge.
The competition, sponsored by the journal Science in conjunction with the National Science Foundation, presented the award to Sung Hoon Kang, Boaz Pokroy, and Joanna Aizenberg from the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
“It was a wonderful surprise,” said Kang, a graduate student in Aizenberg’s Biomineralization and Biomimetics Lab.
The award-winning photograph depicts tiny plastic fibers, each with the diameter of one-five hundredths of a strand of hair, latching onto an equally miniscule plastic sphere.
The scientists said their winning photograph—entitled “Save Our Earth. Let’s Go Green”—embodies the theme of environmental sustainability.
The image conveys an idea of many fingers lifting up a green earth above the environmental crisis, according to Aizenberg, who is a professor of materials science at SEAS as well as a Radcliffe Fellow.
“It’s a metaphor that many hands are needed to save the earth,” Aizenberg said.
The photograph also symbolizes the lab’s goal of learning from nature to create energy-efficient and environmentally friendly materials, she said.
The photograph was first published in last January’s issue of Science as part of a paper detailing the properties of a self-assembling polymer, whose tiny hair-like fibers can act as an adhesive.
The researchers said they were grateful for the opportunity to bring less acccessible scientific concepts into public attention.
“Somehow science has always been perceived as boring or even harmful,” Aizenberg said. “I honestly believe that [by] presenting it in aesthetic ways to the public, we can send a message that science at its core is focused on problems of societal importance.”
—Staff writer Helen X. Yang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.