Public voting now open!
The jury has selected the 20 finalists for the Science Exposed contest.
Researchers from an array of disciplines captured images, which represent their work in an impactful and visual way.
View the 20 images below and vote for your favourite one to help determine the 2017 People’s Choice Award.
Calla lilies from a chemical garden
The flowers in this bouquet bear a remarkable resemblance to calla lilies. However, they are sub-millimeter-sized barium carbonate crystals. These microstructures require barium chloride “seeds” and sodium silicate to form. The addition of carbon dioxide into the solution causes the precipitation and spontaneous assembly of barium carbonate and silica (a major component of sand), resulting in the flower-like structures. This class of self-assembled microstructures represents the promise of one day being able to recreate bioinspired materials with the same control and perfection as is done by nature.
Deep sea endeavours
An octopus (of the species Graneledone boreopacifica) is captured hovering over a lightly sedimented and fractured basalt lava flow 2,100 metres below sea level. This image was taken by members of a scientific research cruise aboard the Canadian Coast Guard Ship (CCGS) John P. Tully in 2016. The purpose of the cruise was to study the Endeavour hydrothermal vent fields and associated biological communities along the Juan de Fuca mid-ocean ridge, 300 kilometres off the west coast of British Columbia, within Canada’s first Marine Protected Area.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew!
An American White Pelican captures a large fish while foraging in a southern Saskatchewan creek in the early spring. In many places throughout the world, birds and humans are in conflict over habitat and fisheries resources. The American White Pelican is a conservation success story, having recovered from a Canadian status of Threatened in the late 1980s. Pelicans and their distant cousins, cormorants, are often hated and persecuted because they eat fish. Christopher Somers’ research program uses a number of approaches to determine what resources these birds need, in terms of space and food, and how these relate to human needs.
Emerging structures in a liquid–solid tug-of-war
Water striders standing on the surface of water, hairs clumping together when wet, dew droplets clinging to a spider’s web — these are just a few examples of thin fibres interacting with the surface tension of a liquid. To better understand these interactions, an experiment was performed in which fibres thinner than a human hair were placed in contact with liquid droplets. After a tug-of-war between the fibre and the liquid, researchers observed the droplet spontaneously winding the fibre, generating tight coils that wrapped around the droplet. This unexpected result reminds us that, from seemingly simple ingredients, nature generates complex phenomena and beautiful structures.
In Flanders Fields
Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) have many remarkable properties, including strength 100 times that of stainless steel, the ability to carry a sustained current over 1 million times that of copper wires, and an aspect ratio as high as 100 million. This photograph shows the top of a vertically aligned array of CNTs made with a process called chemical vapour deposition. Using this technique, the researchers can study ways of achieving higher yield and greater consistency in terms of alignment, purity and atomic arrangement of CNTs. Slight variations in the chemical vapour deposition process can lead to interesting features, such as this effect resembling a poppy, shown in the photo.
It’s not easy being yellow
The male neotropical yellow toad isn’t normally this colourful. Once a year, as the first rains fall in Costa Rica and transform dry streambeds into temporary pools, these toads make a stunning colour change from drab brown to lemon yellow as they gather en masse at the water’s edge to mate. The male toads fight among each other to latch themselves onto the backs of females so that they’re prepared to fertilize her eggs as she lays them. In only a few hours, after he’s finished fertilizing her eggs, he will transform back to his normal dull colour until the rains return next year. Currently, it is unknown how or why this species has adapted this trait. At the University of Windsor, through hormone analysis and reflectance spectrometry, researchers are working to determine the cause of this drastic colour change.
Magnification — zooming in on the cerebellum
Peering into the brain, and seeing the tiny wires that form within, one is struck by its beauty and organization. The golden sun-like network in this image represent bundles of axons of cerebellar Purkinje neurons, which propagate motor information to the rest of the body. The axons converge together here, in preparation for the divergent paths they will eventually undertake. Like the sun, the central branches are surrounded by radiating neurons of various types, guided and supported by the ‘gravity’ of the Purkinje cells. Together, the balanced organization of the cerebellar circuit fine-tunes our every movement, from speech to coordination. In an age of space exploration and of thinking BIG, small things are easily forgotten. That is, until you start zooming in, and see the beauty that is already within.
Microscopic neuron navigator
Many neurons face the challenge of having to reach across distances thousands of times their own size during development, such as when motor neurons in the spinal cord extend nerves to specific muscles. They accomplish this by producing special hand-like structures, called growth cones, at the tips of their axons (the purple “cables” that carry information). These growth cones extend little appendages (in green) to sniff and poke around their environment and find chemical trails laid down by the body to guide them to their distant targets. This image displays a bundle of axons from rat embryo motor neurons spreading out their growth cones to search for guidance. Through this research, we can better understand how the hundreds of billions of neurons in our nervous system connect and form the complex networks we need to function.
Modelling blood vessels
Endothelial cells line the inside of blood vessels in the human body. These cells are in direct contact with blood and alter their behaviour and shape based on interactions with other cells and changes in blood flow. In this image, endothelial cells coat a fabricated channel with a cross-section the approximate width of a human hair. Eleanor Gerson’s research involves developing fabricated channels of different sizes and shapes to develop more accurate microfluidic systems for modelling blood vessels. This provides useful ways to study drug interactions and characterize various vascular diseases.
Ordered fluids for technology
Liquid crystalline (LC) phases combine crystal-like order and liquid-like fluidity, creating materials with unique properties that have been exploited in devices such as your phone, TV, or laptop computer. LCs have also been explored as semiconductors for use in organic solar cells or thin-film transistors. The picture above is a polarized optical microscopy image of an LC material prepared as part of David Ester’s PhD research at Simon Fraser University. The observed “textures” give insight into the arrangement of molecules within the material. This particular focal-conic fan-shaped texture consists of layers of hexagonally packed molecules, the kind of highly ordered LC phases that are being targeted for high-performance organic semiconductors.
Progenitor male germ cells
Gonocytes are cells that are progenitors of stem cells found in the testicles of newborns. This image shows different gonocytes (coloured cells) after two weeks in culture, interacting with testis cells (grey cells in the background). Gonocytes possess various types of leaf-like, finger-like and membrane bleb extensions to help them migrate and communicate. In the developing testis, migrating gonocytes move from the centre to the periphery of the seminiferous tubules, where they become spermatogonial stem cells and produce countless numbers of sperm throughout adulthood. Research on gonocytes will provide valuable insight into their role in preserving male fertility.
Storms on giant planets
Researchers in geophysical fluid dynamics at Memorial University of Newfoundland are modelling convective storms observed by spacecraft near Jupiter and Saturn. A cylindrical tank containing water is placed on a rotating table to simulate a planet’s rotation while the curved surface of the rotating water models the spherical form of a planet near its north pole. Storms are generated by heating the bottom of the tank and observed from above with a system that uses the water surface as a mirror of a Newtonian telescope to amplify small perturbations caused by the flow. Different colours show the “topographic map” of the surface, where elevations are just a fraction of millimetre. These experiments allow researchers to understand the dynamics of the storms on large planets.
Walking on time
Perito Moreno Glacier is one of those places where you can fully contemplate nature. While walking on the ice, one of the guides asked Felipe Almeida, "You do get that we are walking on time, right?". That struck him right away because, until that moment, he hadn’t stopped to think that some of deeper layers of the glacier are from many different ice ages long ago. What was life like back then? What animals were there? So many questions. Nature is indeed amazing.
A “berry” enlightening experiment
Powerful flashes of white light can be used to eliminate microorganisms that cause berries to rot. Since light absorbed by berries leads to a small increase in temperature, an easy way to monitor the dose of light is by using an infrared camera. This method allows a quick visual check for even exposure by detecting slight temperature variations among the berries. In this picture, berries were treated with different doses of light on purpose, to demonstrate the feasibility of the concept.
Beauty from the inside out
This photograph shows a cross-section of the internal skeleton of the deep-water sea pen Umbellula encrinus, a type of cold-water coral. Growth rings can be seen in its skeleton, like those seen in clams, other corals, and trees. Ring formation in these animals is not yet well understood, but it seems likely that the rings are formed annually.
Erosive forces in the Canadian Rockies
Renowned for their scenic magnificence, the Canadian Rocky Mountains are also a classic example of glacial geological processes. Resulting erosional forces continue to change mountain landscapes over thousands of years, mainly through rockfall. Fallen rock debris, pictured here, accumulates at the mountain base in the form of talus slope. These slopes enable researchers to study rockfall and the role of frost in rock cracking. This image was used in part to calculate the talus volumes and rockfall erosion rates for the last 12,500 years. This research revealed that cracks in the Earth’s crust and glacial erosion are the major determinants of rockfall activity and talus formation in the Canadian Rockies.
Revealing an unseen migration
Motus, a new wildlife tracking network, uses flashes to observe previously invisible migrations of bats. Researchers study bats by combining nano-tags with more than 40,000 square kilometres of antennae coverage, to reveal the migratory behaviour of eastern red bats. The network records signals from tagged bats as they move past antennae in their migration. This research team has documented specific details of over 100 bats from three species, including flight speeds, route maps and responses to geographical barriers. Motus has also revealed new details of bird migration, and may reveal details of other migrants such as monarch butterflies.
Somewhere behind the rainbow
This rainbow of minerals was observed on the surface of waste rock from a mine. When metals are mined, leftover rocks remain in piles that are exposed to erosion by water. Erosion leads to elements leaching out of the rocks, resulting in changes in water composition that could be harmful to the environment. Behind this picture’s colourful beauty resides useful information about the composition of water after it has circulated in the waste rock pile. We know that elements such as copper or iron have been removed from the water and are now trapped in minerals because newly formed orange oxide, green carbonate and white sulfate minerals are visible. Through these observations, we can better understand the mechanisms responsible for the release and entrapment of metals from waste rocks to water, thereby improving the long-term prediction and management of mine water quality.
Micron-scale manufacturing is difficult, but sometimes Nature will do it for us. This image shows the end product of a spontaneous process driven by the same principles that let plants pull water from root to leaf. A straight polymer fibre 20x thinner than a human hair is laid across a bubble at the surface of a liquid bath, causing the fiber to be pulled onto the bubble. The only way to accommodate more fiber on the surface of the bubble is for the fiber to bend, and the most effective way to cover the bubble surface is with coils. Bending the fiber requires energy, so only sufficiently thin and flexible fibers will wind around a given bubble. The researchers behind this photo study the balance of bending energy and interfacial energy that allows for certain fibers to wind.
Consequences of a changing Arctic Ocean
The Arctic atmosphere is warming more than twice as fast as the global rate. As a result, surface waters are also warming, and sea ice is retreating and freshening. This is due to increased water from melting sea ice and runoff from rivers. These changes are having profound effects on Arctic marine ecosystems, including shifts in nutrient availability, primary productivity, and microbial community composition. Knowledge of the structure and function of marine microbial communities is critical to assess and predict the consequences of a warmer, fresher Arctic ocean. Climate change monitoring programs, such as the Joint Ocean Ice Studies led by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, have documented large-scale changes in the Arctic Ocean through research missions conducted on Canada’s largest ice-breaker, the Canadian Coast Guard Ship (CCGS) Louis S. St-Laurent.
Thank You for Voting!
The prize-winners will be revealed in November on NSERC’s social media and website.
In the meantime, we encourage you to promote your favorite image. Promotional materials can be easily downloaded from the Science Exposed How to Promote web page. Please use #ScienceExposed as well as referencing @NSERC_CRSNG and #ACFAS in your posts so we can reach as many Canadians as possible.