The photograph "Dusty Plasma" reveals little about its complexity at first glance, but it won Plasma Physics Laboratory's Andrew Post Zwicker and photographer Elle Starkman first prize in the first annual Art of Science Competition Tuesday.
The photograph is one of 50 works in the competition, which strove to combine aesthetic excellence with scientific or technical interest.
Second place was awarded to Anton Darhuber, a research staff member in the electrical engineering department, and third place to Stephen Pratt, a research staff member in the ecology and evolutionary biology department. The original pool consisted of 200 works submitted from 15 departments.
Visual arts professor Andrew Moore and Kati Lovasz of comparative literature, who helped organize the competition, said the exhibit highlighted something art and science share.
"Images are such a common language," Moore said. "It's so rich and so diverse." Lovasz said she was pleased with the interest in the exhibition.
"When people were arriving, they would go to the pictures first and then go the food," she said. "That's unusual."
Post Zwicker and Starkman's photograph shows what look like dust bunnies stirring on the surface of a table-like stainless steel structure. A downward-pointing triangle of particles floats above. All are bathed in a bright red glow.
"We came in with that bright laser so we could see [the triangle]," Post Zwicker said, explaining the glow in the photograph. The triangle, a collection of charged dust particles suspended in Argon gas, floats because "electric charges are balancing the gravitational force," he added.
The plasma that is partially responsible for charging the dust is invisible in the background of the photograph, but it would glow a faint blue if the laser were not present, Post Zwicker said.
Besides the visual appeal, plasma's luminescence has immediate practical applications.
"A bright orange EXIT sign is plasma," Post Zwicker offered as an example.
Darhuber's second-place image, "Driven," shows patterns formed by a surface-active substance spreading over a thin liquid film on a silicon wafer. His study of hydrodynamic instabilities not only applies to the mechanism of the lung, but also exhibits a swirl of different shades of blue against a dark background.
Pratt took third place in the competition with "Individually Marked Ants."
"Ants show remarkably coordinated behavior despite lacking any direction from a well-informed central controller," Pratt's caption reads.
By dropping a pattern of four distinctive dots of paint on each ant, observers can follow the ants' activities for months or even years, studying how their small interactions with each other result in much larger group activities like building nests.
Other projects ranged from a photograph of spider genitalia to a telescopic image of the Horsehead Nebula. Clay Bavor '05 and Jesse Levinson '05, both computer science majors, created a composite image of the average Princeton student.
Moore noted that a large percentage of the entries came from women. "It kind of shatters the myth that there aren't women in the sciences," he said.
Dean of Engineering and Applied Science Maria Klawe was pleased with the exhibit.
"The Friend Center could not be a more perfect place for this," Klawe said. "It's really an amazing collection of art."
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