February 6, 2012

JHU scientist wins NSF international visualization challenge

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, and in the case of an image created by astrophysicist Miguel Angel Aragon of The Johns Hopkins University, the adage holds true.

His vivid computer illustration that won the National Science Foundation’s 2011 Science and Engineering’s Visualization Challenge in the Informational Posters and Graphics category brings to life many dynamic aspects of the universe, spanning 240 million light-years.

“Galaxies associate to form vast, complex structures, but they are really just the tip of the iceberg,” said Aragon, an associate research scientist in the Henry A. Rowland Department of Physics and Astronomy. “Underneath the galaxies, there is a complex network of invisible dark matter. Our poster shows the structure and dynamics of the universe in a unifying way. It summarizes in one image most of my research over the past few years.”

Aragon’s winning image graces the cover of the Feb. 3 issue of the journal Science. You can also view it online at zoom.it/Boj2.

The image is based on research and tools developed by Aragon, while the graphic design and artistic concept were worked out by colleagues Julieta Aguilera and Mark Subbarao from Chicago’s Adler Planetarium.

Called “The Cosmic Web,” the arresting and engaging design explores luminous galaxies and traces the invisible dark matter that forms an enormous network of voids, walls, filaments and clusters, according to Aragon, who receives support from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

The National Science Foundation and the journal Science, which is published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, created the International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge nine years ago to encourage scientists and researchers to use images to communicate their work to the general public; the five categories for submission are Photography, Illustrations, Informational Posters and Graphics, Interactive Games and Videos.

Winning entries appear in a special section in Science and Science Online and on the NSF website, and one of the winning entries—in this case, Aragon’s—appears on the cover of the journal. In addition, each winner receives a one-year print and online subscription to the journal.

The Feb. 3 issue of Science includes all the winning entries in a special news feature, which is also available to the public without registration, at www.sciencemag.org/special/vis2011 and on the NSF website, nsf.gov
.news.scivis. In addition, a slideshow narrated by some of the winners is available at www.aaas.org.